Article reprinted with permission from Killeen Daily Hearld, Killeen, TXFort Hood leaders can't say enough about the support they receive from the local communities. The Army's top leaders speak of it, too, because most of them had at least one assignment in Central Texas.
The cities of Killeen, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, Belton, Lampasas, Gatesville, Florence and Salado lead the effort when it comes to being there for Fort Hood soldiers, whether they are at home or deployed to war.
Leading much of the effort to unite Fort Hood and its surrounding communities is the Central Texas-Fort Hood chapter of the Association of the United States Army. For that reason, the Fort Hood Herald chose the chapter, its members and those who support its efforts as its "People of the Year."
Support comes in many forms, whether it's an organization like the numerous veterans' chapters that dot Central Texas or a businesses like Walmart or folks like Glenn and Betty Seelow, Kempner residents who attend welcome-home ceremonies to show their support for the returning men and women.
Shelbie Parris of Killeen, TX places a wreath at the grave of Javier Adan Carmin Guevera
duringa wreath-laying ceremony Nov. 28 at
the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
Many of those involved in soldier and family support efforts at one time belonged to the military themselves. Glenn Seelow is just one of the local veterans who served in the Vietnam War. There is a reason so many veterans choose to call the Fort Hood area home, and they are among the most fervent supporters of the men and women who keep Fort Hood and the Army running.
"AUSA is very important to this area because we often fill voids in needed services that enhance the quality of life for soldiers and their families," said retired Lt. Gen. Don Jones. "Often times these are needs that are not fulfilled by any other organization."
Jones served as chapter president for two years and is the Fourth Region president, representing Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Name a program at Fort Hood and the Association of the U.S. Army is probably involved, whether it is establishing the Adopt a Unit program to providing scholarships to supporting and advocating for Scott & White Hospital's Homefront Project to donating money to the Survivor Outreach Services Center, Fort Hood's Resiliency Campus or the Wounded Warrior Brigade.
The Central Texas-Fort Hood chapter has spent more than $1.9 million in the last few years to support Fort Hood soldiers and their families, said Ron Taylor, chapter president and Fort Hood National Bank senior vice president.
When hundreds of journalists descended upon Fort Hood after the deadly Nov. 5 shooting, they focused on the relationship between the post and Central Texas. This was nothing new, residents and Army officials stressed. Central Texas is always there for Fort Hood; the events in early November just put a spotlight on that relationship.
The local chapter leapt into action. Officials coordinated fundraising efforts and provided a place, the "Community Response to 11/5" tragedy assistance fund, for concerned citizens around the world to help.
A Nov. 8 letter from a retiree in Florida read:
" Dear Victim Families, Annually I send $100 to each of my grandchildren at Christmas for their savings accounts. This year on behalf of Nick, Jessica, Troy, Kevin, Jack and Adam, we are donating this money to the families of the victims in this terrible tragedy. Please accept this $600 check on our behalf. All six grandchildren wanted to help in a small way."
To date, the chapter has received more than $700,000 in pledges and donations.
"The recent tragedy at Fort Hood was another opportunity for the chapter to stand up and provide assistance for the fallen and wounded soldiers, their families and civilians involved," said Clyde Glosson. "That response speaks volumes about the depth of feelings and support our communities have for soldiers.
The money raised went to help provide hotels and meals for a family who lost a soldier in the shooting, said Col. Jeffrey Sauer, the 1st Cavalry Division's rear detachment commander. It went to family readiness groups and units devastated by the losses.
Sauer said something about the local chapter most leaders at Fort Hood would echo: When we needed them, they were there.
The chapter was among those who addressed needs when they arose. Support from the local communities showed the soldiers that if something does happen to them, their families are taken care of, said Lt. Col. Pete Andrysiak, commander of the 36th Engineer Brigade's 20th Engineer Battalion.
Four soldiers from the battalion were killed Nov. 5 as they prepared for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The Army and civilian communities came together and helped the battalion move forward, Andrysiak said this week.
With all they've done, some, like Taylor, are "always worried that we are not doing enough."
"Having been a soldier for most of my adult life, I personally wanted to devote my life to serving soldiers and their families, whom I think are our nation's most valuable people," Taylor said, adding that support is a passion for him.
The chapter's efforts were awarded in the summer of 2009 when it finally de-throned the reigning biggest chapter in the world. The Central Texas-Fort Hood chapter was recognized for its 17,565 members — 164 more than Fort Bragg's Braxton Bragg chapter in membership.
"We are elated," Taylor said then.
He promised in March 2009 his chapter's membership would surpass Braxton Bragg's, which has been the association's largest chapter in the world for the last 35 years. Central Texas-Fort Hood has not won the title in its 51-year history, Taylor said.
The chapter was also named AUSA's best for the second year in a row. Central Texas-Fort Hood shared the title in 2008 with the Redstone-Huntsville chapter in Alabama.
"It was truly a team effort, Taylor said.
More members means more voices in Congress and that will attract important attention for the post during a time of war and strained federal budgets. That also means more visibility for Central Texas.
The organization continually educates members of Congress and their staffs about critical issues, Taylor said.
Central Texas College Chancellor Jim Anderson predicted 2010 will be another banner year for the chapter.
"Reasons for that are multiple but certainly are in a large measure to the dedicated leadership of Ron Taylor, Ralph Gauer and Don Jones," he said. "With a trio like that failure is not an option."
Marty Smith, Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce president, is the chapter's incoming president and will take office in July. She outlined a plan for the coming year., which included "building on the success of the past leadership, listening to the young soldiers and their families, working as a team, plus truly enjoying working towards our goal."
The local communities and the Central Texas-Fort Hood chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army have worked hard to support their soldiers and families in the last year. With the Army ramping up efforts in Afghanistan and more Fort Hood units getting orders to deploy there, it doesn't look like the need for support will end any time soon.
One thing is sure: when the soldiers and families of Fort Hood need them, they will be there.
To learn more about the local chapter, go to www.forthoodausa.org