USA — Fort Hood Lessons Promote Better Force Protection

WASHINGTON — One year after a trag­ic shoot­ing spree left 13 peo­ple dead and 32 more injured at Fort Hood, Texas, the mil­i­tary is work­ing at every lev­el to apply lessons learned to pro­tect the force against an increas­ing­ly com­plex threat, an Army force-pro­tec­tion offi­cial told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

The Fort Hood inci­dent forced the mil­i­tary to eval­u­ate, “not just the tac­ti­cal-lev­el response that hap­pened at Fort Hood specif­i­cal­ly, but also the process­es and sys­tems and poli­cies that were in place for the Depart­ment of Defense as a whole that could have led to what hap­pened,” said Mary “Chris” Frels, deputy provost mar­shal for U.S. Army North. As U.S. North­ern Command’s Army com­po­nent, Army North has respon­si­bil­i­ty for force pro­tec­tion at Fort Hood and all oth­er Army instal­la­tions in the U.S. homeland. 

Frels cit­ed sol­id depart­men­twide progress in fix­ing short­com­ings iden­ti­fied in sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions and reviews fol­low­ing the Nov. 5, 2009, inci­dent. These include find­ings of an inde­pen­dent pan­el Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates appoint­ed to study the issues and rec­om­men­da­tions in their 86-page report issued in January. 

The mil­i­tary has improved its abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy inter­nal threats – some­thing she said it had­n’t focused on before what many sol­diers now refer to as “5/11” – and to report infor­ma­tion up the chain of com­mand and through the law enforce­ment com­mu­ni­ty in a time­ly, less-stovepiped man­ner, Frels said. 

Before the inci­dent, the Army and its sis­ter ser­vices con­cen­trat­ed their force-pro­tec­tion efforts pre­dom­i­nant­ly on exter­nal threats: out­siders try­ing to tar­get mil­i­tary mem­bers or assets or infil­trate mil­i­tary instal­la­tions, she said. 

But the alleged Fort Hood per­pe­tra­tor, Army Maj. Nidal Halik Hasan, was a sol­dier him­self. That, Frels said, forced the mil­i­tary to re-eval­u­ate its entire risk assess­ment process to encom­pass inter­nal as well as exter­nal threats. 

“This changes the dynam­ic of the entire threat pic­ture, and how you go about address­ing it,” she said. “It tru­ly shed light on the threat we face today. The threat right now is very com­plex and, quite frankly, it’s not clean.” 

A broad range of ini­tia­tives has been put in place, from the pol­i­cy lev­el down to the oper­a­tional and tac­ti­cal lev­el, to improve force pro­tec­tion in light of this threat and tight­en gaps in per­son­nel poli­cies, emer­gency response and mass-casu­al­ty pre­pared­ness, Frels report­ed. “We are mov­ing out on this at every lev­el,” she said. 

“A lot of infor­ma­tion has been put out to the field – lessons learned, things intend­ed to get everybody’s head in the game in terms of what to look for and what to report,” Frels said. 

Mean­while, new efforts are ensur­ing these reports get shared among the appro­pri­ate law-enforce­ment organizations. 

Based on one rec­om­men­da­tion from the inde­pen­dent pan­el, Gates ordered a com­plete deploy­ment of the Law Enforce­ment Defense Data Exchange Sys­tem that will allow all the department’s law enforce­ment enti­ties to share crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion and oth­er law enforce­ment data. 

He also ordered an imme­di­ate expan­sion of an “eGuardian” pilot pro­gram through­out the depart­ment to pro­mote infor­ma­tion shar­ing. The FBI-run force-pro­tec­tion threat report­ing sys­tem is designed to track sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty reports. 

Frels said this ini­tia­tive will pro­mote greater sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and with it, bet­ter force pro­tec­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly at some of the military’s most vul­ner­a­ble loca­tions, such as recruit­ing stations. 

She cit­ed oth­er steps to help DOD ally more close­ly with the FBI, the lead agency in respon­si­bil­i­ty for ter­ror­ism with­in the Unit­ed States. For exam­ple, a new­ly updat­ed mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing will enable more mil­i­tary crim­i­nal inves­tiga­tive agents to embed with the FBI

“Our rela­tion­ship with the FBI is extreme­ly impor­tant to ensure we get the infor­ma­tion we need to ade­quate­ly pro­tect our­selves,” Frels said. 

Mean­while, Army first respon­ders are forg­ing clos­er ties with their coun­ter­parts in the com­mu­ni­ties just out­side their instal­la­tions’ gates to ensure they’re pre­pared should an inci­dent occur. 

Frels cred­it­ed ground­work with neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties that already had been laid by Fort Hood offi­cials with pro­vid­ing the prompt response that saved lives dur­ing the shoot­ing rampage. 

“This has high­light­ed the absolute require­ment for mem­o­ran­da of under­stand­ing and agree­ments with civil­ian com­mu­ni­ties, because, in the Unit­ed States, our mil­i­tary instal­la­tions and facil­i­ties are not the first line of defense,” she said. “The civil­ian law enforce­ment com­mu­ni­ty is.” 

A close rela­tion­ship with local law enforce­ment agen­cies is vital, Frels said. “We have to be ful­ly inte­grat­ed in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­mon oper­at­ing pic­tures and [ensur­ing] MOUs are in place” in the event that the mil­i­tary installation’s capa­bil­i­ties are exceed­ed, she explained. She not­ed that the mil­i­tary also can lend first-respon­der capa­bil­i­ty to the civil­ian com­mu­ni­ty when needed. 

Since the Fort Hood inci­dent, the ser­vices also are mov­ing out on Gates’ call for stronger DOD antiter­ror­ism train­ing pro­grams that incor­po­rate best prac­tices learned by the Depart­ment of Home­land Security. 

As one exam­ple, the mil­i­tary has stepped up “active shoot­er train­ing” to ensure its law enforce­ment per­son­nel know exact­ly how to react to an attack in progress, Frels report­ed. Addi­tion­al train­ing is being offered to the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty at large so peo­ple know how to pro­tect them­selves in a cri­sis and what kind of infor­ma­tion they can pro­vide to assist first responders. 

Frels empha­sized the need for vig­i­lance in main­tain­ing force pro­tec­tion. “The threats we are fac­ing here are for the long term,” she said. “So you have to keep at it. You have to keep focused, and you have to try to address and fix the things you can.” 

Ulti­mate­ly, she said, there’s no sim­ple answer for pro­tect­ing the force and pre­vent­ing anoth­er inci­dent like the Fort Hood shooting. 

“No one solu­tion is going to address ade­quate­ly how we pro­tect our sol­diers and our fam­i­ly mem­bers and our cit­i­zens,” she said. “It is going to take a con­stant reassess­ment of exact­ly what we are up against, and what we think is the best way to mit­i­gate it.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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