A Good Choice to Head the Fort Hood Investigation

Carter_F._Ham_low-resKudos to the Army for appointing General Carter Ham to lead the investigation into the Fort Hood massacre.  Here’s why I like it, from the Wall Street Journal:

Gen. Ham, who commands U.S. Army Europe, is a decorated four-star general with a personal connection to mental health: Almost alone among his peers, the officer has spoken publicly about his own struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after he returned from Iraq in 2005.

I remember reading about General Ham in USA Today a year ago when the news first came out that he and another general had sought counseling to help them deal with PTSD.  The competition in the upper levels of the military is fierce, and careers can be ruined or derailed over very minor weaknesses or shortcomings.  The article pointed out that by being candid about his own mental health issues, the general hoped to reduce some of the stigma that often deters military personnel from seeking psychological help.

I thought his candor was a welcome development, but that it still might be harder for a junior officer or enlisted person to seek help than it would be for a general.  I also wondered whether Ham’s career would suffer after making his revelation.

Apparently not — he was already a four-star general when the story came out, but the timeline in his Wikipedia listing indicates he was a one-star when his traumatic event occurred (a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Iraq, including 14 troops under his command).  The timeline isn’t precisely clear from the USA Today article, but it appears he was “only” a two-star when he sought help.  So after seeking help he was promoted twice and put in charge of U.S. Army Europe — and now he’s been named to an important and highly public role, investigating the Fort Hood massacre.

Ham seems ideally suited to achieve a delicate balance in the Fort Hood inquiry.  He can be sensitive to whatever factors may have prompted Major Hasan’s rampage, while still serving as a walking reminder that even people with mental health issues can be, and need to be, responsible for their own actions.

People in my life have grappled with mental health problems.  I know that mental illness often can be treated — but only if the individual has the courage to seek help.  I salute General Ham for his bravery and his service.