This review was published in the Sunday July 5, 2015 edition of the "San Antonio Express News" and was written by Capt. Vincent Bosquez (Ret), who is the coordinator of Veteran Affairs at Palo Alto College in San Antonio.
Fort Hood, home to two full-armored divisions with more than 41,000 infantrymen, cavalrymen and tankers, is the largest active duty military post in the United States.
But even an installation with a storied history and a mission designed to rapidly deploy and conduct operations to “seize, retain and exploit” the initiative to defeat any adversary around the world can fall victim to the whim of a lone gunman in its own backyard.
“Death on Base: The Fort Hood Massacre” by Texas writers Anita Belles Porterfield and John Porterfield, is an intense, transfixing look into events surrounding the worst mass shooting on a military base on American soil.
When Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, walked into the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center in November 2009 and viciously murdered 12 soldiers and a civilian medic and wounded 43 others, he set into motion national debates on a myriad of topics ranging from the definition of home-grown terrorism, acceptance of religious freedoms, and the perennial discourse on the death penalty.
The Porterfields succinctly cover all the salient points of events leading up to the catastrophic hour of the attack and painstakingly dissect the anatomy of the massacre. They also provide tangible comparisons to other mass shootings and reveal missed opportunities where the Army could have required Hasan to master techniques related to his profession instead of allowing him to be passed along to the next level of responsibility.
In one telling passage, the authors note that one of Hasan’s advisers recognized that over time his views on the military and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were becoming increasingly extreme. The advisor offered Hasan the opportunity to resign his commission, but unless Hasan could be assured that he would get an honorable discharge, he insisted he wanted to remain in school and in the Army.
Incredibly, during this same time period his official Army rating described his performance as outstanding with the recommendation “must promote; best qualified; a star officer.”
With sensitivity and haunting rhetoric, the book details the terror, chaos and despair the 300 soldiers packed into the crowded SRP Center felt as they heard a fellow soldier shout “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” and the shooting began. In the end, after more than 55 people lay dead, dying or wounded, the last person shot was the gunman himself.
The authors take us through the gauntlet of Hasan’s legal maneuvers in the aftermath of the disaster, the Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a preliminary hearing in a civilian court, and continued comparisons to other high-profile cases involving mass murders.
In what may be disturbing to some readers, the Porterfields detail how the Department of Defense and the Army initially classified Hasan’s shooting rampage as workplace violence and denied benefits to the victims that they would have received if they had suffered death or disability in a war zone.
“Death on Base” is a well-researched look into a fateful day in November when Fort Hood, also known as “The Great Place,” was delivered an incomprehensible deadly blow by one of its own. It is a superb work that will be referenced by researchers, historians and the military community for years to come.