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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)
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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Ft. Hood reveals hidden wounds

I'm in Beijing and watching this on the BBC from 7,000 miles away is surreal. I was stationed at Fort Hood as a new officer, with my young family, and I can only imagine the shock being felt across the post and in the local community. We always felt safe living on military installations, and it was critical that when I was deployed, my family was in a safe, secure place.

As there is still no clear indication regarding why this shooting occurred, I can only point to the fact that the military has been under unbelievable stress over the past eight years since 9/11. What began as a rapid response to terrorism has become a "long war," with no end in sight.

I'm taking no position here regarding whether the wars were justified, or how long they should continue. My point is simply that the multitude of deployments, the type of warfare, and the lack of a clear end have placed our servicemen and women, and their families under considerable stress. I'm not sure most Americans are aware of this stress and strain on our military, but I believe that this horrific incident at Fort Hood will raise awareness across the country.

There is also enormous stress on our support systems, more specifically the medical and psychological systems that heal our wounded and care for the many soldiers who return from deployments with hidden wounds. There have been symptoms that point to deeper problems in these systems, for example the awful conditions and treatment of soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center several years ago, the fratricide at a mental-health facility in Iraq several months ago, and now, a mental-health professional has turned a gun on those that he would heal.

The Army has tried recently to talk more openly about mental health problems, specifically post -traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but there is still an embedded culture that dishonors those who seek help. Despite the many overtures by leaders and medical-service providers, soldiers are still reluctant to admit what might be seen as a failure to deal with the rigors of soldiering and military life. It's a difficult problem, and one the the Army has been trying to resolve through education.

The Army is a solid institution, composed of leaders who care about their people. But this shooting provides yet another example of an institution, and more specifically, a support system under stress. As the deployments continue, we will see more responses to the associated stress by soldiers and support systems, and will continue to learn the cost borne by our soldiers and their families.

Todd Henshaw wrote earlier this week about why Americans trust military leaders.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  November 6, 2009; 5:39 AM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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PUUULEASE! Stop calling the action of the juhadist murderer at Fort Hood "stress". This is media malpractice. Its not true. This man enjoyed a free medical school education (YES, FREE, check it out), a fine commission, offer of free psychiatric help (he refused) and girls at all the striptease joints. He wanted to kill Americans, and he did exactly what he desired. It alarms me that political correct preachers want to hide this crime by labeling it a mental illness.

Posted by: drzimmern1 | November 17, 2009 10:22 PM
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Having PTSD doesn't make you violent or some kind of maniac killer. People with it are often better in the end at coping with trauma than people who don't have it. There is good treatment for it, and the Army's doing a good job dealing with the disorder compared to how it was handled in the past.

However, like it was in the past, a lot of the public is very ignorant about the disorder & what treatment can accomplish.

Posted by: Nymous | November 6, 2009 6:23 PM
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The stress on our Army and Marine Corps from fighting two wars is significant, if not catastrophic, but Hasan was not a vet so I'm not buying the PTSD line for this incident. The fact that he was an officer makes it hard to believe the "they-picked-on-me" line. These allegations of abuse were probably figments of his imagination. Things will change, but right now it looks like he has more in common with Seung-Hui Cho than with Mohammed Atta.

Posted by: seth_malaguerra | November 6, 2009 2:02 PM
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Like many others in 64-71 I did ONE tour in 'Nam... I can't imagine, 2,3,4,5, tours... this is NOT right.

There were incidents in 'Nam of this, and also in Iraq when the US soldier (non Moslem) set off a grenade and killed fellow servicemen.

Tim McVeigh, the #1 terrorist in America, was Christian. Making the point that this guy was Moslem is hiding the fact that the Army ignored the danger signals and kept him active duty.

Posted by: kkrimmer | November 6, 2009 1:07 PM
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Poor little stressed bloodthirsty muslim extremist.

I'm sure his years in battle scarred him - oh wait, he didn't go anywhere or fight anyone. Oh well.

Posted by: harrietvanewimsey | November 6, 2009 11:40 AM
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I believe what you mean is that most Washington Post pundits, who are constantly urging more and longer wars without ever volunteering for service, are not aware of the stress and strain on our military.

Posted by: AlanSF | November 6, 2009 11:33 AM
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With all due respect to the Col. - this terrible situation had no connnection with troop stress!
This convert to Islam, Hasan, had been taken care of by the Army since High School, all the way through Med School and years of internship and residency.
He never saw combat!!
He is a selfish coward and he killed several good men and women!!
I hope he survives so we can put him to trial and death!
Please do not use this situation to push any political position! It cheapens the deaths of the innocent!

Posted by: thornegp2626 | November 6, 2009 9:29 AM
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Democrats have been screaming about the impact of 2 wars on our soldiers since 2003!! -- but time and time again - Republicans would vote AGAINST funding for treatment for traumatic brain injuries and PTSD - while shouting "we have to fight them over there to keep our streets safe over here!"
FINALLY, after Dems won Congress in 2006, funding was increased.

Posted by: angie12106 | November 6, 2009 7:44 AM
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For too long the military has minimalized the adverse effects of stress and esp. prolonged stress on the military person but also the family. The Col. is correct in his writings but why is this brought to the point only after the Ft. Hood incident. I served two combat tours in VN but also had a very successful careeer with the VA diagnosing and providing therapy to veterans within our PTSD program. As such even from VN we had a good understanding of the effects of war and stress from trauma on the vet, although we fell short on the family effect. My point is the Army along with the Marines in particular should have seen this mental health exacerbation within the soldier/marine and family long ago and made changes to stop the repeated tours that can only drain the resiliency of any military person to do his or her best.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | November 6, 2009 7:19 AM
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This war would end in short order if Americans were faced with what would be a much fairer system of getting enough wo/men to join the services.

THE DRAFT. Every single person over 18, in decent mental and physical health, should be REQUIRED to serve a minimum of 2 years in one of the Armed Forces or medical units.

"I'm not sure most Americans are aware of this stress and strain on our military, but I believe that this horrific incident at Fort Hood will raise awareness across the country."

I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that Americans don't care if their ox (child) isn't getting gored.

Posted by: limpscomb | November 6, 2009 6:29 AM
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