A memorial ceremony is slated to be held Saturday to honor veteran suicide, but rather than support the community, Fort Hood has decided not to participate.
Fort Hood loses an average of one or more soldiers to suicide each month, but has declined to be involved in a memorial to commemorate veteran suicide just ahead of the ninth anniversary of a shooting that killed 14 and injured 33 on base.
After initially agreeing to supply 12 soldiers for a one-hour ceremony on Saturday, Fort Hood later said it would not attend the event, citing “prepare-to-deploy” orders.
Howard Berry is the man behind Flags for Forgotten Soldiers, a traveling memorial consisting of 660 flags – commemorating the 660 veterans who claim their own lives every month – and a banner to entitle the memorial’s purpose.
Berry plans to hold a small ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 3, when he places the flags – just two days ahead of the ninth anniversary of the Fort Hood shooting. Members of the local media and community will be there, including the mayor of Killeen, Texas.
However, no one from Fort Hood has agreed to attend after pulling out the 12 soldiers it initially pledged to send to participate.
Chris Haug, Chief of Media Relations at Fort Hood, said the unit who was going to attend received “prepare-to-deploy” orders preventing them from participating in the one-hour event.
“The 1st Medical Brigade was unable to support due to ongoing mission requirements,” Haug told American Military News on Thursday. “They have prepare-to-deploy orders, which means they don’t have deployment orders, they have to be prepared to go at a moment’s notice.”
When asked if another unit was available to attend the ceremony, Haug said there isn’t enough time to request another unit due to the length of the formal request process and approval from unit commanders.
The suicide rate at Fort Hood has been increasing. In 2008, the base lost 14 soldiers to suicide, which was then an all-time high, according to The New York Times. Just two years later in 2010, the number jumped to a new high of 22.
However, Haug rejected the notion that Fort Hood’s suicide rate is relatively high.
Howard Berry’s mission is to place his month-long flag displays in every state to bring about awareness of veteran suicide.
He pursued the opportunity to secure the 31st state – Texas – to place his flag display on a site near to his heart – the November 5th Memorial Park in Killeen, Texas. The site, located five miles from the Fort Hood base, is a community-launched public memorial that was completed last year in honor of those lost in the 2009 shooting.
The memorial is driven by the memory of his son. Staff Sgt. Joshua Berry was a 1st Infantry soldier who served in Afghanistan and later survived the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Josh, like many other veterans, received inadequate VA care and stigma toward his severe PTSD. He took his own life in 2013.
“I’m looking forward to going down here,” Berry told American Military News. “Going down here for my son is nice, but honoring these other veterans that were left behind is much more important.”
In hopes of getting local support, Berry sought the help of Theresa Johnson, a military spouse and local advocate for military families.
Johnson was able to recruit her own son and two veterans from Dallas who plan to carry out ceremonial activities during the memorial.
“I’m merely a vessel to help Mr. Berry,” Johnson told American Military News. “If I can help, why not? Suicide is not a problem that just affects one or two people — it’s a whole military community that suffers,”
Johnson resonated with Berry’s cause because of numerous friends who lost a veteran to suicide, and because her husband and son are both combat veterans with the scars of their own deployments.
“This is important because it could be me and my family struggling,” she said. “It’s our responsibility as a military community and civilian community to support them after they come home from war.”
“We have a suicide epidemic of great proportions across the military in general,” she noted.