Families, soldiers mourn comrades; share stories of survival

By William Branigin and Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009; 5:59 PM

Pfc. Francheska Velez had survived a tour disarming bombs in in Iraq. After a visit home in August, the 21-year-old Chicago resident learned she was pregnant. Velez arranged for maternity leave, and she stopped at Fort Hood, Tex., on her way home.

Velez was among the 13 people killed Thursday at a soldier readiness facility at the sprawling military post when an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, allegedly opened fire on a crowd of soldiers. At least 30 others were wounded.

"She was supposed to be coming very, very soon. Everyone's devastated. Everyone's at a loss for words," said her cousin Jennifer Arzuaga. "She was very young. She wasn't supposed to die the way she died."

Velez, whose father came from Colombia and mother from Puerto Rico, joined the Army three years ago because she wanted to travel and make something of herself.

Her pleasures tended toward the simple and her dancing was divine. Salsa and meringue, especially.

"She always made everybody happy. That's what it was about for her -- her family and her friends," Arzuaga said. As for Iraq, "She didn't really like it, but she was okay," Arzuaga said. "She was just keeping strong. She was ready for anything."

Another of the 13 victims killed in was a 29-year-old smalltown Wisconsin woman who walked into an Army recruiting office one week after watching the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on television.

Sgt. Amy Krueger was sent to Afghanistan on her first tour of duty and worked in a 24-bed hospital there. By the time of Thursday's shooting, she had risen to the rank of sergeant with the Madison-based 467th Medical Detachment. She had arrived at Fort Hood only two days earlier and was scheduled to be re-deployed to Afghanistan in December.

A deep patriotic streak runs through the Wisconsin town of Kiel and ran through Krueger, according to a profile that appeared in her hometown paper two years after she enlisted.

According to the newspaper story, Krueger said she felt she needed to be "an army of one," quoting the Army's recruiting slogan.

Her mother, Jerilyn Krueger, was quoted as saying, "You can't take this on all by yourself."

"Just watch me," her mother said Krueger replied.

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