Compassionate Leave – A Different Fort Hood Gunman

After Army psychiatrist and devoted Muslim Nidal Hassan killed 12 and wounded 31 in November 2009 at the Fort Hood military base near Killeen, Tex., the Army ramped up its security, held Muslim sensitivity training sessions, rewrote the Army manual to remove any references that linked Islam to terrorism, increased psychiatric care, and took away all the soldiers’ weapons on the base.


The officers at the massive army base thought they’d closed all the loopholes leading to violence. Still the 300 square mile base was largely unprotected in a physical sense. But that didn’t matter. The U.S. Army conducts sensitivity training in regard to Muslims; they forgot to send their supervisory officers to sensitivity training to learn how not to be jerks when managing their troops.


The bureaucracy, as massive as the base itself, is a thick jungle of intransigent rules and regulations. There’s only one way, and that’s the Army way. If, God forbid, a spouse, a child, or a parent dies, in other words, a loved one (Is the word “love” even in the U.S. Army manual? Somehow, one suspects not, except perhaps in the sense of “love of country”) a soldier gets 24-hours to deal with the situation and report back to duty. That’s it; otherwise, tough luck, soldier, or sailor (any port the ship makes won’t be mine).


The position of the U.S. Army, though not as massive as it once was, thanks to Obama, is understandable in the respect that with so many soldiers, a fair number each day must suffer the loss of a loved one. If they had granted leave to every soldier during World War II, we’d be doing the Hitler salute right now.


Still, according to the N.Y. Daily News, 34 year-old Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, who spent four months as an Army truck driver in Iraq, may have held a grudge against his superiors when he was denied compassionate leave to attend his mother’s funeral. Carmen died of a heart attack on Nov. 24, 2013. He was finally granted a 24-hour pass.


He may also have gone ballistic with a soldier whom he reportedly believed had stolen something from him, killing three and wounding 16 with a $579 pistol that he purchased at Guns Galore on March 1, four miles from the base; the same store where Nidal Hasan had purchased his murder weapon.


“Lopez was being examined for posttraumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. At the very least, officials said, his mental state was unstable.


“Lopez, like Fort Hood terrorist Maj. Nidal Hasan before him, found his tool for mass murder at Guns Galore — a store just a 4-mile drive from the base.


“Though Lopez was taking Ambien and other prescription drugs for a variety of psychiatric woes, he walked out of the Killeen, Tex., shop with his gun, authorities said.”


The Daily News also noted that he had posted a photo on Facebook with a caption, in Spanish: “The people shouldn’t fear the government — the government should fear the people.”

“Milley said he had no information on reports that Lopez was nursing a grudge against the military after the Army initially refused to give him leave last November for his mother’s funeral.


“Lopez was finally given a 24-hour pass to join his family for the farewell to his mom. Lopez spent nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before going on active duty with a one-year deployment on the Sinai Peninsula and four months in Iraq, said Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno.


“Army officials said the married Lopez arrived at Fort Hood in February from another Texas military base. His most recent assignment was as a driver.


So good of the N.Y. Daily News to translate that quote, popular with Tea Party groups, into English for us. The quote is based on Thomas Jefferson’s writing: “”When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

Comic book writer and author Alan Moore, who wrote the V for Vendetta comic book series in the late 1980s (which was made into a movie in 2005), simplified the quote to: “People should not fear their government. Government should fear their people.”


Putting political witch hunts to one side, people want to know what turned this soldier into a killing machine. What enraged him so? The Daily News’ report – and there are other sources that make the same assertions – is a good clue. Only, no one is getting the news through the major networks (as far as I can tell) or cable stations. Certainly not Fox News.


If they’re waiting for the U.S. Army to admit they made a mistake, they’re going to wait a long time. The Army is a huge collective with a very small, sensitive head. They’ve left plenty of soldiers dangling over the years, suffering non-combat-related injuries that the Army has refused to cover.


Still, the refusal of leave and subsequent problems, including a possible theft and another refusal of Lopez’ request for time off, is not to excuse Lopez’ behavior. He was said to be particularly close to his mother and devastated by her death. You don’t just go and blast people away.


However, the Army needs to fine-tune its listening skills. The next time a soldier who is known to have psychiatric problems, or at the least is trying to deal with a heavy grief, and is on some heavy-duty medications, asks for leave, they might think about granting it. Just saying.


The best of all possible worlds would have been for Lopez to realize that he wasn’t himself and if the Army wouldn’t give him leave, go AWOL rather than drive down the road, buy a gun (illegally), and go back and blow away the guy who stole your whatever and the guy who refused to grant you that leave. Tell them to go to hell, don’t send them there; that’s not your job.


Moreover, psychiatry thinks it can do God’s job better than God can. When it comes to grieving over the death of a loved one, not all the pills in creation are going to bring that person back or assuage the pain. A visit to the Army chaplain was in order for that issue.


As for Lopez’ other management issues regarding the obstinacy of a brick-wall bureaucracy, it’s an old problem known to the military and corporations alike. Everyone below management levels knows that going to Human Resources is worse than useless. Go to HR and you’ll be branded a nuisance for the rest of your career, which you’ll be spending in some out-of-the-way cubicle. Management always backs up the supervisor, whether you’re in the Army, the Navy, Wal-Mart or in some Wall Street firm.


These kinds of shootings can’t be solved by banning guns. The shooter always gets one anyway. All gun control does is leave the innocent defenseless. Until the military and corporations start sending supervisors to sensitivity training (drill sergeants notwithstanding) where they learn that they cause more problems than they solve by screaming and engaging in verbal abuse, they’d better start distributing bullet-proof vests to their personnel and stocking up on body bags.


If you’re determined to drive people crazy, to abuse your power and authority, and then express horror at the consequences, at least be prepared for them. The majority of us are imperfect, like Spec. Lopez. We’re fed up, too. But being good people, we don’t want to blow the hyper-aggressive control freaks away. Instead, we quietly take our Prozac and Ambien, don’t mix them with alcohol, and look to the day when, hopefully, the gates of Heaven will open up for us, where we can find some peace of mind and happiness.


Pray for Spec. Lopez’ victims and their families and his family. But pray for him, too, with compassionate understanding: He wasn’t on any mission. His head was messed up from the drugs, he just couldn’t take it anymore, and took the wrong road. He was wrong to murder and injure those people in a blind rage. But in this case, perhaps people can find it in their hearts to forgive him. The next time you see a supervisor screaming at some hapless, imperfect employee for committing some unforgivable workplace sin, you’ll understand, instead of gloating that you’re glad it isn’t you, that you’d never make that mistake.







Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 11:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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