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 News Article

Fort Hood Offers 24-Hour Grief Counseling

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas , Nov. 12, 2009 – In the aftermath of the Nov. 5 shootings here that left 13 dead and 38 wounded, soldiers, family members and civilians who work on post are looking for answers, and for help in grieving.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A U.S. Army soldier buries his head in his printed program during a memorial service on Fort Hood, Texas, honoring the 13 who were fatally shot in a Nov. 5 shooting spree by a lone gunman on post, Nov. 10, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Grazyna Musick

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Following any loss, individuals and communities go through a grieving process which can be complicated, unpredictable and long-term. Fort Hood leaders have set up a Grieving Center at the Spiritual Fitness Center within the Resiliency Campus that is being staffed 24 hours a day with chaplains and Military Family Life counselors to help anyone in need.

Since the massacre, the Spiritual Fitness Center has doubled the number of chaplains and Military Family Life counselors on duty to ensure there are enough to meet with all the people who need someone to talk to, , said Chaplain (Maj.) David Waweru, on-site coordinator of the Spiritual Fitness Center.

Although the shooting was over in a matter of minutes, the grieving and healing process will take much longer to run its course, Army chaplains said. “An event takes a second, but the complete ramifications can take months or years to show the strain it’s put on people,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Edward Harris, 4-4 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.

The five-stage grieving process model developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, which she and David Kessler have written about, is widely accepted as a standard list of steps taken by someone who is moving through a healthy process of grieving, according to the National Institute of Health.

The first stage of grief is denial and denial, along with shock, helps to numb people to the event and enable them to keep moving through each day. Stage two is anger, where the individual lashes out at many different people in an attempt to channel all the denied feelings into something tangible. Stage three is filled with “If only” and “What if” statements. The bargaining stage deals with people trying to “make a deal” in order to make the pain stop.

Stage four of the grieving process is one of the most widely known stages of grieving – depression. This is when a person truly deals with their feelings of loss. While painful, it is a necessary step towards healing. The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. It doesn’t mean that you’re all right with losing someone; it just means that you’ve learned to live with the event. People can move on and begin to enjoy the activities and people in their lives again. It is necessary to reach this final stage in order to fully cope with a traumatic event or loss.

While it seems structured, the process isn’t actually a checklist and there is no timeline for how long each stage will last. “People will grieve differently,” Waweru said. “The process of getting back to normalcy is different from one to another. There is no time limit. Some will be done as soon as this week, but others will take longer.

“The Fort Hood family is dealing with a tragedy, which is initially accompanied by shock and, later, denial,” Waweru said. Following the initial period of four or five days, most likely after the memorial ceremony … people will start processing how the incident affected them personally, he said.

“Everyone is holding up together right now, but as time goes by you’ll start seeing the individual reactions,” he explained. “Unfortunately, many soldiers are used to these kinds of tragedies in combat.”

One of the best ways to better cope with the feelings and issues arising from an incident like this is to try and return to a regular schedule, Waweru said. Getting involved in hobbies and interests again is a good way to help readjust to life following a traumatic event, he explained.

Soldiers are encouraged to look out for themselves and others in the coming weeks to make sure everyone is learning to cope with these tragic events. According to Harris, difficulty sleeping, withdrawal, depression and coping difficulties are signs that indicate that soldiers are having issues with the grieving process.

“Everyone knows himself; if you feel you’re not where you’re supposed to be, that should be a red flag to seek help,” Waweru said.

Following the initial adjustment period, the Spiritual Fitness Center staff will be working with brigade and battalion elements to ensure that soldiers having coping issues receiving long-term help and care, Waweru said.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante is assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, III Corps.)

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