PHOTOS: Fort Hood massacre on the minds of vets at a special ceremony at FGCU

Veterans recognized at Tuesday’s Third Annual Veterans Recognition Day at FGCU

Paul Allen, Army National Guard

Al Bielen, U.S. Marines

Terry Brennen, U.S. Army

James Bryan, U.S. Army

Ralph Bullens , U.S. Army

Mike Constantine, U.S. Navy

Nancy Deacy, U.S. Army Nurse Corps

Kenneth DeMercado, U.S. Navy

Carl Fuhri, U.S. Army

Jose Gonzalez, U.S. Army

Ricardo Grande, U.S. Army

Robert Green Jr., U.S. Air Force

Ana Victoria Holmes, U.S. Army

Sheree Houston, U.S. Air Force

Albert Linden Jr., (Guest Speaker), U.S. Army

Deborah McNeal, U.S. Army

Norman Melious, U.S. Army

Amos Nickelson, U.S. Air Force

Jean-Paul Reaves, U.S. Navy

Rick Ramos, U.S. Coast Guard

Daniel Regelski, U.S. Army

Jonathan Riner, U.S. ARMY (Ret.)

Bill Sheppard, U.S. Air Force

Anita Spohr, U.S. Air Force

Daniel Telep, U.S. Navy

Marv Weisberg, U.S. Army

Dr. Irvin D. S. Winsboro, U.S. Army

Susan Byars, U.S. Army

— Recognition of Veterans Day started with two moments of silence at Florida Gulf Coast University on Tuesday: one for the nation’s fallen veterans and a second for the victims of Thursday’s shooting at Fort Hood.

It is hard to separate the two on this Veterans Day as the nation honors its heroes from past wars while searching for answers in the attack by an army psychiatrist that killed 13 and wounded dozens of others. Administrators, professors and students — many of them veterans — gathered in the Student Union at Florida Gulf Coast University Tuesday for the third annual Veterans Recognition Day.

For some veterans in attendance at the event, it brought to mind the delicate psychological balance soldiers must strike during times of active conflict, for others the importance of caring for veterans when they return and for others the utter unpredictability of life as a member of the armed services.

“For the first time in history, thousands of warriors return home with enough benefits and resources to be anything they want to be,” said Jonathan Riner, who served in the Army, including eight months in Afghanistan.

Discussing the Fort Hood tragedy Tuesday, Riner said there is no standard response to the shootings.

“This is the type of exchange most veterans have to experience when they return,” said Riner, 27, who is studying anthropology. “We get categorized. It’s so far away from my personal life. Really, we all relate to these things differently.”

At FGCU on Tuesday, 1st Sgt. Bryant Robinson was still finding the words to deal with last week’s attack at Fort Hood. Robinson, who heads up Estero High School’s ROTC program, attended the ceremony with his color guard: four seniors in his program who presented the flags at Tuesday’s event. He served 26 years in the Army, including in Vietnam and Desert Storm.

“When we were about to deploy to Vietnam, a lot of us didn’t know why we were going to be deployed,” said Robinson. “But when we saw the state the South Vietnamese were living in, we knew why we were there. You don’t know how a person is going to react until they are in combat.”

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the suspect in Thursday’s Fort Hood Massacre, was never deployed overseas, but early indications paint a picture of a man who was desperate to avoid deployment to a combat situation.

“Safety is important — that’s why I’m with the University Police Department,” said Robert Green Jr., co-founder of FGCU CampusVeterans, a group formed to recognize and honor veterans who work and attend classes at FGCU.

Green is the parking customer service representative for the University Police Department.

“Sometimes we’re concerned with things outside of this country,” said Green, discussing the feeling of safety most Americans feel, especially those on domestic military bases. “When that’s invaded by whatever means, it’s disheartening.”

But for Green and other veterans on campus, Tuesday’s modest, intimate event created a cloak of solidarity and oneness that overcomes the horror of last week’s shooting.

“I feel now we should all get together,” said Green. “It feels wonderful; it feels like Christmas. I’m from Louisiana, where you put everything in a pot and it comes out good. It has a spiritual content to it — it’s a oneness.”

Mike Constantine, who served on an aircraft carrier called the USS Nimitz from 1975 to 1979, said Tuesday’s event was a special one for him. Before working at FGCU’s central energy plant, Constantine said no employer had ever formally recognized his military service. Constantine, who also served in the Navy Reserve from 1986 to 2005, was one of 28 employees, students and special attendees to walk away from Tuesday’s ceremony with a small plaque recognizing their military service and participation in Tuesday’s event.

Constantine, who was too young to serve in Vietnam, said he saw many family friends return from that conflict with battle scars of every form.

“Quite a few of them were stressed out a little differently,” Constantine said. “The stresses are going to cause a lot more — not only physical problems — but psychological ones.”

Constantine said the shooting at Fort Hood, however unjustified, should raise to the forefront the need to address the psychological impacts of war on veterans. It is an important conversation to have now, he said, with thousands of men and women returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It needs to be,” said Constantine. “And it sounds like from the speakers here today, there are a lot better programs out there for returning veterans.”

Connect with reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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