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Winter 2010 Rapport: Chaplaincy Spotlight

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On November 5, 2009, an army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire on a group of soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas, leaving 13 dead and 30 wounded. Chaplain (LTC) R. Keith Wright Jr. (M.Div. 1984) shared the duty of coordinating support for victims and their families.

Lieutenant Colonel Keith Wright (M.Div. 1984) is the deputy garrison chaplain at Fort Hood—the largest post in the U.S. Army, with more than 50,000 solders (roughly 10 percent of the military), 100 chaplains, and at least 100,000 family members and other personnel. The garrison chaplain’s office is responsible for the training and preparation of chaplains and their assistants and for the care of soldiers and their families on base. Among other duties, Chaplain Wright manages a crisis hotline that provides 24-hour access to chaplains for anyone on base. He also makes sure a chaplain is on duty seven days a week to notify family members of casualties and to perform funerals and memorials.

A 23-year chaplain, Wright has been based at Fort Hood for three years, 14 months of which were spent in Iraq.

On the afternoon of November 5, 2009, Wright was getting ready to start a staff meeting when he received a call from one of his chaplains, who had been visiting a nearby town and was trying to get back on base. The chaplain encountered an ambulance driver, who warned him not to enter. Someone had issued a net call to a three-city area around the base for ambulances—something was going on, and the chaplain wanted to know if Wright knew anything about it. Wright had to say he didn’t, but on looking out his window saw four ambulances driving past.

Wright jumped into his car to follow the ambulances. The action was unfolding at the soldier readiness point (SRP), a “one-stop shop” for soldiers coming back from the war theater or being deployed, dealing with everything from dental care to preparing a last will and testament.

Wright tried to get into the building, but because no one knew how many gunmen were inside and the building hadn’t been secured, he wasn’t admitted. He called back to his office, requesting that chaplains be sent to the SRP and to the local hospital.

On his return to the office, Wright’s phone began to “ring off the hook.” The Garrison Chaplain’s Office became the center of gravity for coordination of support during the event.

He made his way to the hospital, still unsure how bad things were. Wright said, “The scene in the emergency room could only be equated to managed chaos. There is no movie I’ve seen or situation I’ve been in, including Iraq—and I’ve seen some things— that was as intense or crazy as that emergency room. People were packed in like sardines.”

Wright aided the hospital chaplain and coordinated the effort to ensure that the army had enough chaplains at the emergency room, and at other hospitals as the initial facility exceded its capacity, to pray for the wounded, comfort the grieving and counsel others who had had to retrieve bodies and care for the wounded.

“There were a lot of heroes that day. I talked with a young gal who was shot in the back as she took care of another soldier. Many acts of courage took place that day—folks trying to protect and care for one another in the face of danger.”

Wright’s office also coordinated support for the memorial service on November 10, at which President Barack Obama spoke.

In the months following the shooting, Wright’s office offered counseling services to survivors, friends and family of the dead and wounded and to other Muslim soldiers on the base.

“I’m mindful,” said Wright, “of the scripture that says God takes those things intended for evil and turns them for good. Even during the hard times, we’ve seen acts of courage and heroism. We’ve seen an outpouring of compassion and love toward the soldiers at Fort Hood and to their families as well. I think people are even more mindful of the sacrifices soldiers make every day as they prepare to go into harm’s way to literally protect our freedom.”

Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2010 3:14 PM

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