The court martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan continues this week at Fort Hood. He’s accused of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 people in a shooting rampage there in November 2009.
Just beyond the gates of the Army post is in the city of Killeen. Since the start of the military trial, community leaders there have invited media covering the trial to several community events. It’s a chance to highlight the city – even if it’s not under the best of circumstances.
On Fort Hood Street in Killeen, the military presence is obvious. There are signs that read "Support our Troops." Local businesses tout their support of the military on billboards.
Last week, the Killeen Chamber of Commerce hosted two events for visiting media as the Hasan trial began. The chamber said it had been preparing for the trial since March of last year.
“The shootings at Fort Hood were very unfortunate but we have a really good story to tell in this community," said the chamber's John Packer. "A part of that story is wrapped in how we responded. But the larger part of the story is about who we are as a community. We’re where the character of the American soldier permeates the community.”
The chamber says it recognized the unique opportunity the community had to tell its story to a national, and possibly international, audience. They made 120 media kits that included a restaurant guides, contact information, recent news about the town, and upcoming events. They distributed “Talking Points,” that included some marketing ideas and economic development rankings. The chamber also reached out to local businesses to alert them of the expected media presence during the trial.
“Our experience historically has been, at times, we get a lot of national attention because Fort Hood is here and the community has not been proactive and not reacted. It’s tried to ignore it," said Killeen chamber president John Crutchfield.
He said while there’s always a concern the town could be seen as trying to promote itself in the wake of the trial, that’s not the chamber’s goal.
“We’re not attempting to promote anything all. We’re attempting to say is that this tragic event does not define this community and we won’t let it define this community. That’s not who we are," Crutchfield said.
But Killeen is a community that’s familiar with tragedy.
“More soldiers deploying from Fort Hood have been killed than any other post, largely due to the intense fighting of the 1st Calvary Division and 4th Infantry Division in the Baghdad area. So we’ve withstood those losses," said Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin.
In 1991, the city was also the site of the Luby’s Massacre, when a gunman drove his truck into a Luby’s cafeteria and shot 50 people. 24 people died, including the shooter.
Now that Nidal Hasan's trial is finally underway, Killeen is looking for a way to close this chapter and start a new one.
“As a community we’ve been dealing with this since it happened. And there’s been different stages. I think for the most part we’re ready to move on. We don’t greet the attention," the chamber's John Packer said.
The trial is expected to take weeks, with nearly 300 witnesses who could testify. More than 40 witnesses testified last week.