Dallas newspaper names its 'Texan of the Year'

DALLAS, TX The recognition comes less than two months after a shooting spree at one of the nation's largest military posts left 13 dead and 29 wounded. An Army psychiatrist has been charged in the deaths.

The heroes include civilian police officers Sgt. Kimberly Munley and Sgt. Mark Todd, who shot the gunman and ended the shooting spree, and a number of soldiers who helped others when they themselves were wounded.

But the list of heroes at Fort Hood "goes far beyond the casualties and responders involved in the Nov. 5 shooting rampage," the newspaper wrote for a Saturday edition story.

Men, women and even children on and off the base have embraced the call to duty and service, the newspaper said. They're not looking for personal glory or attention and they serve because they firmly believe in their mission, it said.

Fort Hood spokesman Christopher Haug said everyone at the post appreciated the award and was grateful for the support they've received.

"Central Texas and Texas as a whole has been very supportive of the military," Haug said. "This is just an honor for the folks here and the sacrifices that they make in order to ensure America's freedom."

Deployments at Fort Hood have increased from 5,850 troops in 2005 to 43,000 last year with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troop morale and re-enlistments have suffered because soldiers sent overseas are worried about their children and spouses, Army officials said.

"I honestly believe the family pays more in these conflicts than the soldiers do," says Sgt. Maj. Daniel E. Szczepankiewicz of the Warrior Transition Brigade at Fort Hood. "When we deploy, although it's much more dangerous, it's much easier" emotionally.

Fort Hood commanders have turned increasingly to the surrounding communities of Killeen, Copperas Cove, Gatesville, Belton, Temple and Harker Heights for help with programs intended to make life easier for families.

For example, schools throughout the area have support groups to help students cope with parents' multiple deployments, stress in families and marriages and death.

"Fort Hood is the epicenter of sacrifice," said Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, praising the community's efforts to help the soldiers' families.

Although no one wants to downplay the significance of the Nov. 5 shooting spree, many associated with the sprawling Central Texas base said they don't want one tragedy to eclipse the sacrifices thousands of others in their community have made.

"At Fort Hood, it's all personal," the newspaper wrote. "It's all family."

While the shooting drew attention to the mental strain borne by many in the military, it also showed the remarkable ability soldiers, their spouses and their children have "to suck it up and remain focused on the mission," the newspaper said.

Fort Hood's heroes are the seventh recipients of the newspaper's Texan of the Year award. Last year, Craig Watkins, the state's first black district attorney, was honored.

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