Pool photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez
Despite their wounds, however, eight of the specialists were still willing to deploy, says Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Lie-Ping Chang.
The units are rebuilding quickly, Chang says. Eight of the wounded have returned to duty, and 14 other mental health reservists have volunteered to fill vacancies and go to Iraq or Afghanistan, he says.
Two reservists have volunteered to immediately deploy with the units in December. Another 12 said they will be ready by early January, Chang says. "I think we can do it," Chang says, referring to replenishing his ranks. "The response was so overwhelming, and the people wanted to do the right thing."
Two vacancies remain, says Chang, who is a family physician and commands the 807th Medical Command, under which the two combat stress control units are assigned.
Five mental health workers were among 13 people shot to death when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan allegedly opened fire at a Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood. Another 19 behavioral health specialists were wounded, Chang says. Members of the 467th and 1908th Army Reserve Combat Stress Control detachments were at the center preparing for deployment.
"They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Chang says.
Hasan was charged last week with 13 counts of murder.
He was one of three regular Army soldiers who had been assigned to the 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment deploying to Afghanistan next month, Chang says. The unit is slotted for 46 soldiers.
The Army last week said there was a dire need for more mental health workers in Afghanistan, where the terrain and distances make it difficult to provide behavioral health support to soldiers in far-flung outposts. With the surge in troops to Afghanistan this year, mental health support was lagging, Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker said last week.
The Army typically strives to provide one mental health clinician for every 700 deployed soldiers. That ratio slipped to 1-to-1,123 last spring.
The 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment was to help fix that problem by December, Army Lt. Col. Ed Brusher says.
Chang had each mental health worker undergo a psychological assessment to determine whether they are fit for combat. "I want to make sure when we deploy this unit they have been thoroughly vetted and checked," he says.
"I told the soldiers, 'I understand how stressful being in that room (where the shooting occurred) was. You see people get killed.' You think of 13 killed and 30 injured, that's 43 people laying there (wounded and dead)," Chang says. "That's a pretty strong psychological shock."
He says one mental health worker suffering psychological problems from the attack was excused from deployment, and he anticipates there may be a few other such cases.
This was not the first tragedy for the 1908th unit heading for Iraq, Chang says. One of that unit's psychiatrists, Matthew Houseal, 54, volunteered this year to deploy to Iraq with another Reserve unit, the 55th Combat Stress Control Team. Houseal was working at a clinic on an installation outside Baghdad on May 11 when Army Sgt. John Russell allegedly opened fire, killing Houseal.