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 News Article

Outpouring of Support Helps Fort Hood Victims, Families

By U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Gaylord
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas, Nov. 12, 2009 – November 5 began and might have ended like any other day for Kanesha Howard, an Army spouse and mother of two. Instead, she found herself living a nightmare by midday, franticly wondering if she still had a husband.

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Spouses and family members of 20th Engineering Battalion soldiers deliver homemade food to the battalion’s headquarters building Sunday in support of its Soldiers wounded in the Nov. 5 shooting on Fort Hood. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord

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Eventually, she learned that Staff Sgt. Alvin Howard, a heavy-wheeled vehicle mechanic assigned to the 20th Engineer Battalion, had been wounded in the massacre here, while preparing with other troops for their upcoming deployment.

Since that fateful day, however, Howard has mustered the strength to smile again.

Amid unimaginable frustration and destruction, Howard’s husband’s unit assured her that the Fort Hood community is one that never stops caring for its own, even in the most stressful of circumstances.

Several soldiers and fellow Army spouses showed up at Howard’s home in Killeen the Sunday after the shooting, arms full of food and hot meals, ensuring Howard had everything she needed in the aftermath of tragedy. Similar efforts are being made for other members of the battalion affected by the mass shooting.

“We just want to make sure that the families and the soldiers have food and everything they need, so they won’t have to worry about going and getting anything or trying to cook, and they can take care of their families,” said Sharon Floyd, the battalion’s Family Readiness Group support assistant.

Hours after the shooting, Floyd organized a care group and donations from other military units, churches and members of the community.

Lt. Col. Jason Kelly, deputy commander of the 36th Engineer Brigade, had every family readiness support assistant in the brigade in his office looking for ways to contribute.

“There is no more I could ask of anyone,” Kelly said. “People are looking for ways to help.”

Working tirelessly Sunday morning, the Family Readiness Group spouses and several soldiers diligently packed canned goods, snacks, bread, fruit and warm, homemade dishes into vans and trucks for soldiers and their families living both on and off post.

Even families waiting by their soldiers’ bedsides received surprise visits from group members. Their help expanded beyond preparing and delivering meals to helping care for children and ensuring families would have access to available resources.

“They have been more than helpful,” said Pfc. Joseph Foster, a utility equipment repairer assigned to the 20th Engineering Battalion. “It’s like a giant family. We just get stronger.”

Foster was shot in the left hip and was released from the hospital the afternoon after the shooting. He said that the meals and child care assistance has been invaluable to him, his wife and their two young children.

Single soldiers, meanwhile, have been receiving baskets of food and movies during their convalescence.

“We are ensuring they are not forgotten,” Kelly said.

The battalion, which was preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, lost four and had 11 of its members injured when a lone gunman opened fire at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center.

For these unfortunate troops and their families, the Family Readiness Group provided a swift boost of encouragement and faith.

“Of all the pain and the sorrow that you go through, this obviously lifts you up in terms of a difficult time, knowing you have the support,” said Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, the battalion’s commander.

“The most important piece is taking care of the Army family. This is what it’s all about: Army strong, family strong,” he added.

Pouring through the doors of the unit headquarters building for hours, caring spouses and family members on a special mission happily piled box after box of food and supplies on a row of several tables.

Spouses like Denise Drzewiecki, who had no direct link to the battalion, also helped.

“We’re all in this big old family called the military; we each have a connection, even if we don’t know anyone,” said Drzewiecki, who brought homemade fried chicken, scalloped potatoes, vegetables and cookies for the troops and families. “It could have easily been my husband or someone else’s, and you want to know that someone else is going to be there if it’s your time.”

Other units have reached out to assist the engineers, Kelly said.

“It’s an incredible thing,” the deputy commander said. “That’s what is different about our community – families coming together.”

Such unrelenting care and concern assures military spouses like Howard that t the Fort Hood community will provide ongoing support under even the most pressing adversities.

“They --families and soldiers -- have been very helpful,” Howard said. “It felt good to know they care, and they’re there if I need something. It feels good to know my husband is in the military and in a unit that gives so much support.”

This is the first major tragedy Howard has faced during her husband’s military career. She says she is certain she never will face tragedy alone, even when things are at their worst, because the Army is strong, and families are stronger.

“This is a perfect indicator of the military community and the civilian community coming together in a time of crisis,” Andrysiak said.

(U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Gaylord is assigned to the 13th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSgt. 1st Class David Cronberger, 553rd Support Battalion, unloads boxes of food at the 20th Engineering Battalion headquarters building Sunday. As a result of the Nov. 5 massacre, the battalion’s casualties included four dead and 11 wounded. Battalion leaders sent care groups with hot meals to the homes of affected troops and their families. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher Gaylord  
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