By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 20, 2010 - Pentagon officials today released the Defense Department's final review of recommendations issued by an independent panel in the wake of the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting spree on Fort Hood, Texas.
Among the department's top priorities, as outlined in the review, are boosting on-base emergency response capabilities, improving law enforcement and force protection information sharing with partner agencies, and integrating force protection policy, a Defense Department news release said.
In a memorandum signed Aug. 18, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he carefully considered the panel's recommendations -- detailed in the report titled, "Protecting the Force: Lessons Learned from Fort Hood" -- and is directing the department to take "appropriate action" to address the initiatives detailed in the follow-on review.
"I expect department leaders to place great priority on implementing these recommendations," Gates said. All actions are aimed at contributing to the safety and health of military forces, the release said.
Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, allegedly opened fire at a Fort Hood facility where soldiers were processing for overseas deployments. He has been charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.
"The tragic shooting of U.S. military personnel at Fort Hood ... underscored the need for the [Defense Department] to thoroughly review its approach to force protection and to broaden its force protection policies, programs and procedures to go beyond their traditional focus on hostile external threats," Gates said.
Earlier this year, an investigative panel detailed 79 recommendations in its report centered on improving force protection and tightening gaps in personnel policies, emergency response mass casualty preparedness and support to Defense Department health care providers. In April, Gates directed the Defense Department to immediately implement 26 of the 79 recommendations while a review of the remaining 53 recommendations continued.
The final review's initiatives "will significantly improve the department's ability to mitigate internal threats, ensure force protection, enable emergency response and provide care for victims and families," Gates said.
The review puts forth "concrete actions" for the majority of the recommendations, Gates said. In some cases, however, further study will be required before the department can take additional steps.
In particular, he said, the department will strengthen its policies, programs and procedures in the following areas:
-- Educating commanders about the symptoms of potential workplace violence and the tools available to them to address it;
-- Ensuring commanders and supervisors have access to appropriate information in personnel records throughout a servicemember's career;
-- Improving law enforcement and force protection information sharing with partner agencies and among installations to ensure all relevant personnel are aware of and able to analyze and respond to potential threats;
-- Expanding installations' emergency response capabilities, including enabling enhanced 911 to notify dispatchers of a caller's location, mass notification and warning systems to guide installation personnel and emergency responders to an emergency, and a common operating picture to ensure emergency responders have access to real-time information in a crisis;
-- Integrating force protection policy through the creation of a consultative and policy-making body that will bring together the various entities across the department with force protection responsibilities; and
-- Ensuring the department provides top-quality health care to servicemembers and health care providers by hiring additional health care providers, particularly in the mental health field, and ensuring health care providers receive appropriate post-deployment respite and time at home between deployments.
Gates also has directed the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and America's security affairs to continue to lead the follow-on review and to provide regular progress reports to him.
The secretary also emphasized the importance of leadership and the need for intervention when necessary to ensure good order and discipline.
"Force protection, although critical, is not a substitute for leadership," he said. "Leaders at every level in our military play a critical role."
Gates pledged to provide leaders with the necessary tools to deal with potential issues among their ranks.
"As the department takes steps to strengthen its approach to force protection," he said, "I ask leaders and commanders across the force to remain mindful of the unique requirements of the profession of arms –- that military service is grounded in an oath to support and defend our Constitution, but also may necessitate the sacrifice of some of the very rights we defend."