Four and a half years after President Obama last traveled to Fort Hood to mourn soldiers killed by a colleague, the president returned once again to pay his respects to another three soldiers that were killed in a shooting at Fort Hood last week.
The memorial service Mr. Obama attended on Wednesday was in the same spot where he spoke after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead and 30 wounded.
"Part of what makes this so painful is that we've been here before," Mr. Obama said. "We still do not yet know exactly why but we do know this: we must honor their lives, not in word or talk but in deed, and in truth. We must honor these men with a renewed commitment to keep our troops safe, not just in battle but on the home front as well."
The most recent shooting took place a week ago when Spc. Ivan Lopez opened fire on the base after an argument related to taking leave, according to military investigators. As he drove through the base, Lopez killed three soldiers: Sgt. Timothy Owens, 37, of Effingham, Ill., an Iraq war veteran; Staff Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, a 20-year Army veteran who was planning to retire; and Sgt. 1st Class Danny Ferguson, 39, of Mulberry, Fla., a Bronze Star winner who had just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. Another 16 people were injured, four of whom remained hospitalized as the memorial service took place. Lopez ended the rampage by killing himself.
The president said it was "love for country" that inspired the three victims to don the uniform, and the love for the Army that made them the soldiers they were.
Before speaking at the memorial service, the president met with the families of the victims.
"We also draw strength from you, for even in your grief, even as your heart breaks we see in you that eternal truth, love never ends," he said during the memorial service. "To the parents of these men, as a father I cannot begin to fathom your anguish but I know you poured your love and your hope into your sons."
Speaking to the entire Fort Hood community, he said that the Army and the nation stand behind them after two tragic shootings in five years. "We cannot help but feel the echoes of that horrible day in the tragedy we now face," he said.
The president is no stranger to speaking to the nation after a tragedy. During his presidency, there have been more than half a dozen high-profile shootings.
But this shooting, unlike many before it, is unlikely to spur an overwhelming push for a change in the nation's gun laws. It has raised questions about protocol for carrying guns on bases, which most soldiers are prohibited from doing, and mental health issues. There is widespread agreement among lawmakers and defense officials that soldiers returning from war need more attention paid to their mental health as well as their physical health, but so far, no lawmaker has stepped forward with a bill to allocate more resources toward that cause.
Mr. Obama echoed the call for better mental health care, saying, "We can never eliminate every risk, but as a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties."
On the way to Texas, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters indicated that the president will continue to use his executive authority to take limited steps to address gun violence, which he turned to in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Though the shooting killed 20 students and six teachers, not a single federal law was passed in response.
"You know the efforts that he's undertaken. You know the disappointment he felt when the Congress failed to heed the desires of an overwhelming majority of the American people and refuse to pass a commonsense measure to expand background checks," Carney said. "But he has committed to take actions that he can that were outlined in his plan to reduce gun violence, the actions that he can take through his executive authorities."