After Fort Hood attack, healers set grief aside
Given choice, all decided to deploy and help others
MADISON, Wis. — On the doors of the US Army Reserve’s low-slung offices hang posters that proclaim “Battlemind — Armor For Your Mind.’’
Building that armor is the specialty of the Army Reserve’s 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment. The group of psychologists and social workers helps combat troops cope with everything from domestic squabbles to a comrade’s death in battle.
Over the past year, the healers have had to heal themselves.
The Madison-based 467th had just arrived at Fort Hood to make final preparations for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. On Nov. 5, 2009, some soldiers from the unit were in the Texas post’s medical building getting vaccinations and other tests when, witnesses say, an Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hasan, opened fire on his fellow soldiers.
Dozens were wounded and 13 people were killed, including three members of the 467th: Major Libardo E. Caraveo of Woodbridge, Va.; Sergeant Amy Krueger of Kiel; and Captain Russell G. Seager of Mount Pleasant. Six other members were wounded.
Weeks later, the tightknit unit shipped out to Afghanistan, forcing members to somehow set aside their own grief to wade into that suffered by others. The 467th returned home just last week, days ahead of the shootings’ first anniversary. Many members still haven’t come to grips with it.
“This doesn’t end in a day or a week or a month or a year,’’ said Colonel Kathy Platoni, a unit psychologist from Beavercreek, Ohio. “The whole unit has a broken heart. What happened was inconceivable, [that] such an event could occur on American soil and on an American military installation and our losses would be so much larger than life.’’
Hasan, who was not a member of the 467th but was supposed to deploy with the unit to Afghanistan, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
The Army has barred unit members from talking about what happened because of the legal proceedings against the American-born Muslim.
Still, in emotional interviews, several members of the unit described the year that has passed.
Everyone in the unit knew Caraveo, Krueger, and Seager, said Sergeant Kara Kortenkamp, a 27-year-old social worker who joined the Army Reserve as a sophomore in college and looked up to Krueger.
The unit’s commander, Major Laura Suttinger, said the Army focused on the unit’s mental state in the weeks between the shooting and deployment, making chaplains and psychologists available. Each morning in formation she delivered inspirational quotes to her troops and tried to persuade them to take advantage of the help. The unit became even closer, said Suttinger, of Fort Atkinson. Then it scattered for Thanksgiving, a last visit home before they shipped out.
The Army gave each member of the unit a choice on whether to deploy. No one backed out. “I . . . just knew that there were guys overseas who needed us and they didn’t have us yet, and we needed to help them, too,’’ said Kortenkamp, of La Crosse. “There really was never a doubt in my mind that I should keep going.’’
They arrived in Afghanistan emotionally and physically spent from dealing with the grief, adrenaline, and nerves. But the battle mindset kicked in as the unit threw itself into its work and prepared to split up to field bases around the country. That was perhaps the most difficult moment for the unit; friends were forced to say goodbye for a year, Suttinger said.