Somber trip to Fort Hood for president
By Philip Rucker and Michael D. Shear
FORT HOOD, Tex.--President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will make a somber trip here Tuesday to attend a memorial service for those killed in last week's rampage at this Army post, the largest military installation in the nation.
The visit comes as Obama's administration -- including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the military -- is struggling to understand the motives of Army Major Nidal M. Hasan, accused of fatally shooting 13 people and wounding dozens of others.
The president will speak at the memorial service, giving him another opportunity to express outrage over the deaths and to tell the nation that the government is taking steps to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Before the service, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. Central time, the Obamas will meet privately with the families of those who were killed. They will visit wounded soldiers at the post's Darnell Army Medical Center after the service, White House officials said.
The memorial is open to the general public and can accomodate about 3,000 people. In addition to Obama, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. also will speak. There will be a sermon, a roll call of the names of the dead and a 21-gun salute -- all aimed at facilitating the grieving process for soldiers, civilians and family members at Fort Hood, Army officials said.
Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, Fort Hood's commanding officer, said the service would be a traditional ceremony, similar to those held to honor those who die in combat.
"This is what we do," said Cone said. "This is a process that we as soldiers go through and many of our families have been a part of this...It will be familiar and comfortable to many of our soldiers."
Security was increased on the post in advance of Tuesday's service. For reasons of both safety and privacy, workers stacked 4,700-pound steel shipping containers, three high, around the perimeter of the memorial service site building--creating what some soldiers dubbed "the Great Wall of Fort Hood."
Cone said Army officials are working to create a renewed sense of safety on the post, where about 50,000 soldiers and civilians are stationed. "This cannot become a battlefield," he said.
In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Obama said the tragedy of the shooting was compounded by where it took place: a way station at a U.S. military base where soldiers are processed before heading into battle.
"It was in this place, on a base where our soldiers ought to feel most safe, where those brave Americans who are preparing to risk their lives in defense of our nation, lost their lives in a crime against our nation," Obama said.
With the U.S. fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama acknowledged in an interview broadcast Monday night, men and women in the armed serves are under the "most severe stress."
"There are going to be instances in which an individual cracks," the president told ABC News. "I think the questions that we're asking now -- and we don't have yet complete answers to -- is is this an individual who's acting in this way or is it some larger set of actors? You know, what are the motivations? Those are all questions that I think we have to ask ourselves."
Cone said 27 of the soldiers injured in Thursday's shooting have been released from hospitals and most of them are expected to attend the service. Fifteen soldiers remain hospitalized, eight of them in intensive care, Cone said.
Obama will return from Texas to Washington Tuesday evening and make final preparations for for a 10-day trip to Japan, China and Singapore. One highlight of that trip will be what administration officials are calling a major speech in Japan about relations with the region.
Before he leaves, Obama is expected to hold a final meeting Wednesday with his military advisers as he weighs his options for the war in Afghanistan. A decision on sending additional troops to that war zone is expected in the coming weeks, likely after Obama returns from Asia.
By Philip Rucker and Michael Shear
November 10, 2009; 7:48 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Barack Obama , National Security
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