FORT HOOD, Texas (BP)–About a dozen Southern Baptist chaplains stationed at Fort Hood in central Texas began ministering in the aftermath of a shooting on post Nov. 5 that has left 13 people dead and 30 wounded.
Also in the area, Southern Baptist churches rallied to pray for the victims and offer assistance.
“I was told that the chaplains at Fort Hood — about a dozen of whom are Southern Baptist — were involved on the ground yesterday, and started ministering during and right after the incident,” Keith Travis, team leader of the chaplaincy evangelism team at the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press Nov. 6.
“The Army is a big family, and the chaplains are a very prominent part of that family. And they are there right now providing pastoral care to the Fort Hood community,” Travis said. “We ask Southern Baptists to pray for our chaplains as they continue to minister.”
Gen. Douglas Carver, a Southern Baptist who serves as chief of chaplains for the U.S. Army, was at Fort Hood on Nov. 6 accompanying Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Carver’s office told Baptist Press. About 30 grief counselors were available to soldiers at Fort Hood’s Spiritual Fitness Center (the chapel), according to the post’s public affairs office.
Gunfire broke out early in the afternoon Thursday on the world’s largest military base as about 300 soldiers were lined up to receive shots and have their eyes checked in preparation for deployment.
The alleged gunman, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist, was shot four times by a civilian police officer and remained hospitalized on a ventilator, the Associated Press reported.
Soldiers who witnessed the shooting said Hasan, a Muslim, shouted “Allahu Akbar,” an Arabic phrase for “God is great,” before opening fire, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander, said, adding that the comment had not been confirmed.
Officials said the motive for the shooting was unclear, but various reports indicated that Hasan had expressed apprehension over deployment orders as well as disapproval of the war on terror.
Experts attributed the high number of casualties at the Soldier Readiness Center to the close quarters and ricochet fire. Some soldiers rushed to treat others by ripping their uniforms into makeshift bandages, AP said, adding that all but two of the injured were still hospitalized, and all were in stable condition.
President Obama ordered that flags be flown at half-staff in what he called a “modest tribute” to those who died and the military personnel who serve the United States, and the Department of Defense observed a moment of silence throughout the world at 1:34 p.m. EST Friday, marking 24 hours after the shooting.
At least six months ago, law enforcement officials noticed Hasan because of comments online about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades, AP said. But investigators had not determined whether Hasan was the author of the posts and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting.
Following the incident, NAMB sent an e-mail to its 1,300 Southern Baptist military chaplains, letting them know they are in the staff’s prayers and the staff is available to assist them in the aftermath, Travis said.
Bobby Welch, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a veteran of the Vietnam War, told BP he contacted Travis soon after hearing news of the shooting and asked him to convey to the chaplains Southern Baptists’ concern and prayers for them.
“I’m shocked by something like that taking place within the ranks of the military,” Welch said.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention encouraged its churches to remember the families of the victims in prayer and offered assistance to undergird the ministries of the churches in the Fort Hood region.
At Memorial Baptist Church in Killeen, three miles from Fort Hood’s main gate, about 60 people gathered Thursday night for a question-and-answer time and for prayer. Ken Cavey, the church’s pastor and a D.Min. student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said church leaders knew people would have spiritual questions following the shooting.
“When something like this happens, you’re dealing with a significant breach of trust as well as a significant breach of your own fear,” Cavey said, according to AP. “‘I survived this, what about the next time?'”
Cavey said that of the 1,100 people who regularly attend Memorial Baptist, about 75 percent either are active or retired members of the military.
Also in Killeen, First Baptist Church, another large congregation with strong ties to Fort Hood, was praying for the situation and available to respond to needs.
“This was equal to the Oklahoma City bombing when you say this was an American serviceman who chose to take out his venom on American servicemen,” Randy Wallace, pastor of First Baptist, told AP. “It’s more twisted and dark when the enemy is us.”
The Bells, the student newspaper at the Baptist-affiliated University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in nearby Belton, gathered comments from students who had connections to the Army post.
“Somebody in my class got a text message and … announced it,” Kelsy Caffas, whose husband is deployed in Iraq, told The Bells. “I was scared. I was kind of shocked, I mean … you hear about things like this happening, but you never think it’s going to happen where you live … The majority of the soldiers I know on base are overseas right now, but I do know a few soldiers that, like my neighbors … that are on base.”
Another student said her father is a retired chaplain’s assistant and now serves as a youth minister at Fort Hood, and some soldiers’ children were at their house Thursday as the tragedy unfolded.
“They were with us when they heard the news, but as far as we know, all of their parents are OK,” Bethany Carter said. “They’re all very shocked and angry.”
Welch, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., told BP the massacre at Fort Hood is a prime opportunity for churches across the Southern Baptist Convention to educate themselves on how to relate to military families, especially regarding combat stress.
Travis and others at NAMB have compiled materials to assist pastors and churches in ministering to the military, and Welch recommended that churches — particularly those in military communities — take advantage of the guidance.
“The language we use concerning these stress situations is so important in order to be helpful to folks,” said Welch, who now is the SBC Executive Committee’s strategist for global evangelical relations.
Resources for pastors and chaplains, including video training sessions, a 13-week Bible study and a ministry care plan, are available at www.namb.net/site/?c=9qKILUOzEpH&b=5031181.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.