Fort Leonard Wood: Saddened but not afraid after Fort Hood incident

Monday, November 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:08 a.m. CST, Monday, November 9, 2009

FORT LEONARD WOOD — On Saturday, the people at Fort Leonard Wood, an Army base in the Missouri Ozarks, were still shocked and saddened by the tragedy at Fort Hood in Texas.

But with 700 miles separating the two military bases, it didn't seem to have profoundly affected their daily lives.

"There hasn't been much conversation in town — just surprise and disappointment," said Norma Farris of St. Robert, Mo., the closest town to the fort. "I just hope we don't have copycats."

Soldiers and civilians expressed hope that a tragedy like the shooting deaths of 13 people by an Army psychiatrist in Texas wouldn't happen at Fort Leonard Wood, yet conceded that it was random and could occur anywhere.

There have been murders and robberies at the fort in the past, base residents said, but nothing on the scale of Fort Hood.

Fort Leonard Wood did not heighten security after Thursday's incident.

Michael Alley, chief of external communications for the Missouri post, said the shooting was viewed as an isolated event.

"There is no change," Alley said. "This is not a Fort Hood story."

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, the suspect in the shooting rampage has been taken off a ventilator but remains in intensive care at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Army spokesman Chris Grey said military investigators now believe he was the only gunman, and the shootings at Fort Hood were not the act of terrorist plot.

Fort Hood is the nation's largest military base, covering 214,968 acres and ranked first among the Army's 97 installations in terms of "future" capability. With 61,400 acres, Fort Leonard Wood is about the sixth largest Army base in the country, Alley said.

Fort Hood is the designated location for troops awaiting deployment, while Fort Leonard Wood is a training and development post. Fort Leonard Wood offers  a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear school, an engineering school and a military police school.

The Missouri post is a community within itself. On any given day it supports a population of an estimated 102,000 soldiers, retirees, family members and civilians.

About 2,000 houses are located on base, as well as four Waynesville School District schools to serve the children of the families living there.

If a tragedy such the one at Fort Hood were to happen at Fort Leonard Wood, the effects would ripple through the base and the surrounding towns, as well.

Alley said most of the people in the area are associated with the fort. If Fort Leonard Wood were to shut down, most of the towns in Pulaski, Phelps, and Laclede counties would be negatively impacted, he said.

The people in the area depend on the fort, and on each other.

"We'd be so depressed, devasted, heart-broken, all of the above," said Williams. "But you'd see a community pull together."

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