Military action in Iraq creates new anxiety for hard-hit Fort Hood, Texas

Army Sgt. Daniel Methvin was among the post's previous record casualty count

Jason Sickles, Yahoo
Yahoo News

The Iraq war claimed the lives of 519 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, more than any other U.S. military post. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo News)

The Iraq war claimed the lives of 519 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, more than any other U.S. military post. (Jason …

KILLEEN, Texas — There are days when George and Linda Methvin still tiptoe around their home in nearby Belton like it’s an emotional minefield.

Eleven years ago next month Army officers came to the two-story redbrick with word that their 22-year-old son, Sgt. Daniel Methvin, had been killed by an insurgent’s grenade in Iraq.

The Methvins have learned to cope with the loss, but as George says, “Don’t let the facade fool you. It’s always there.”

That’s why a wooden box beside their bed is latched and coated in dust. The letters inside, sent from Daniel in Iraq, haven’t been read since his death.

“It’s just too tender, too bittersweet,” Linda, 61, told Yahoo News.

A burial flag the Army gave them sits in the garage. They dodge TV news, especially war stories, when possible.

“My stomach and chest tighten up,” said George, 62.

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Army Sgt. Daniel Methvin and his son, Elijah, before the soldier was killed in Iraq in 2003. (Family photo)

Army Sgt. Daniel Methvin and his son, Elijah, before the soldier was killed in Iraq in 2003. (Family photo)

But living in a military community makes it hard to escape everything. Fort Hood, which covers 340 square miles of Central Texas, is home to 40,000 Army soldiers.

So when President Barack Obama decided this week to send nearly 300 American troops back to war-torn Iraq on a security mission, the Methvins, like most others in this community, took notice.

“I don't get that involved in politics; I just didn't feel like we needed to be in Iraq to begin with,” said Linda, who supported her son and continues to support troops nonetheless. “But I don’t know why we are always the ones that have to take care of everything.”

Since 2003, Fort Hood has deployed nearly a half-million soldiers, in weekly waves, to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of the 4,804 American military casualties in Iraq, 519 were stationed at Fort Hood, the most of any U.S. base.

“That was a hard time to handle,” said Jean Shine, a supporter of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. “I was going to funerals all the time.”

Sgt. Methvin, a mortar-man, was one of the first from Fort Hood to die. He had been away from home for four months when he was killed guarding a children’s hospital, an extra assignment for which he had volunteered.

“He was a loving, honorable person who loved kids,” Linda said. "Daniel definitely felt like he should be there, and he felt more validated as a man. He definitely felt like he was making a difference over there.”

However, George added, “If he were alive today, he wouldn't believe that we are still over there.”

Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug told Yahoo News there are no current orders to deploy to Iraq. Troops from here were among the last to leave Iraq when the U.S. withdrew in late 2011.

A soldier eating at Chick-fil-A on Tuesday pursed his lips and shook his head "no" when asked if freedom had been achieved in Iraq by 2011.

“After being over there and seeing the situation, I don’t know if it will ever be complete,” said the 44-year-old man, who declined to give his name because he is not authorized to speak for the U.S. Army. “But it’s our job to go if asked.”

Posed the same question, other soldiers in Killeen also respectfully declined to answer on the record.

“We probably all have an opinion, but we are sworn to uphold the Constitution regardless,” said another unidentified soldier, who was teaching his young son to ride a bicycle. “We’re prepared, and I’m going to do everything in my power to bring my soldiers back unharmed.”

TV images of Islamist insurgents terrorizing communities in Iraq riled the regulars during happy hour at the American Legion Post 223 near downtown Killeen.

“It’s sad to watch them going through the same cities where we lost soldiers,” said Bernie Gillespie, who served in the Army from 1975 to 1986.

The handful of veterans at the bar swig draft Budweiser, smoke cigarettes and cast many stones at the White House, Congress, Senate and both political parties.

Gillespie, now a Realtor, doesn’t think putting troops back in Iraq is a good move.

“Not unless they are going to finish it,” said Gillespie, 58. “Go in there like World War II, take it over and declare martial law.”

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Killeen resident Jean Shine has handed out thousands of angel coins to soldiers headed to war. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo News)

Killeen resident Jean Shine has handed out thousands of angel coins to soldiers headed to war. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo …

“Support Our Troops” is somewhat of an understatement in Killeen, where businesses brandish names such as USA Laundry and Tanks Pub & Grill. At the Taiwan Dragon Chinese Restaurant, the walls are covered in photos of Fort Hood soldiers.

Shine, also a Realtor, is one of the post’s biggest cheerleaders. She hands angel coins to soldiers when they deploy from Fort Hood and puts holiday wreaths on every headstone at the veterans cemetery after Thanksgiving.

Like others, Shine said she'll back whatever road lies ahead, but she would rather see the Iraqis defend themselves. "We did the best we could to save them, to train them," she said. “We want our sons and daughters done there.”

Daniel Methvin’s plan was to do one tour in Iraq and come home to be a police officer, father and husband. His son, Elijah, turned 2 a few weeks before Daniel was killed.

“He looks so much like his daddy and sounds so much like his daddy,” Linda said. “It almost takes your breath away.”

Elijah, who will be 13 next month, sometimes slips on his dad’s Army T-shirts when he visits. He and George, a gregarious Fozzie Bear type, still pile into Daniel’s old room to play video games together.

“I know my son. He wouldn’t want me down in the dumps,” George said.

Nor has Elijah allowed them to backslide.

“I realized that I had to be the person that his daddy knew,” Linda said. “It would not be honoring his memory to not move forward with life. That's part of what he was fighting for, was our way of life.”

Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).

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