FORT HOOD -- The top soldier at Fort Hood told President Barack Obama and ranks of soldiers that they would stand always with the families of soldiers killed in a shooting rampage at the post.
Fort Hood's commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, spoke Wednesday of the life accomplishments of the three slain soldiers and their families as their president and uniformed comrades listened. Milley said they would always be remembered by their comrades and their families would always be cared for.
"They had different hobbies, passions and they all had different lives," Milley said. "But, they were united by a single desire — desire to serve their country and their willingness to answer their nation's call in a time of war."
Milley talked about the soldiers, first responders and medical team who demonstrated heroic courage on April 2, the day a fellow soldier shot and killed three men and wounded 16 others before taking his own life at the Central Texas Army post.
"Your strength, collectively and individually is an inspiration to us all," he said. "... Thank you all."
More than 3,000 people attended the service to honor Sgt. Danny Ferguson, Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez and Sgt. Timothy Owens. Owens was from a small town in Illinois, Ferguson a small town in Florida and Rodriguez was originally from Puerto Rico.
"Each made the ultimate sacrifice," Milley said. "Tragically, not in a war zone in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere, but here at home among their brothers and sisters at arms."
The lieutenant general talked about Lazaney-Rodriguez's background as a soldier who enlisted at the age of 18 and was deployed once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq. A father to one son, he served about 20 years with the Army and was awarded multiple honors, including a Combat Action Badge. Milley said he was set to retire within months of the day he was shot down.
Milley described Owens as a sports enthusiast whose passions were football, wrestling and Taekwondo.
"So much so that he became a black belt before joining the Army in 2004," he said.
Married with three children, Owens served in Kuwait and was stationed in Georgia before he was transferred to Fort Hood in 2011. He too earned a Combat Action Badge while serving in Iraq during "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in 2005.
A father to one daughter and engaged to be married, Ferguson was also an athlete who played football, baseball, basketball and ran track. He served for 20 years and was stationed at multiple posts across the United States and in Italy and Germany. During his service, he was deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and awarded multiple honors, including the Bronze Star.
"And on that day — the second of April, one week ago — Sgt. Ferguson died a hero," Milley said. "He was shot as he held a door closed to protect a room full of other soldiers. He put himself in the line of fire to save them."
Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama returned to the grieving Army post Wednesday where he first took on the job as the nation's comforter five years ago, mourning at Fort Hood with families and uniformed comrades of those killed during last week's shooting spree.
"We somehow bear what seems unbearable," he declared.
It was yet another sad observance for a president who has had to deliver words of consolation across the nation during his more than five years in office. At Fort Hood, the ceremony was made more poignant as a remembrance for soldiers who didn't die in wars abroad but in the safety of their own compound.
"They were members of a generation that has borne the burden of our security for more than a decade of war," Obama said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno also spoke at the ceremony, where he called Fort Hood a "home away from home" for his wife and family.
"That these soldiers were lost on American soil and at the hands of one of our own, makes this tragedy heartbreaking and inexplicable," he said.
Three soldiers and more than a dozen others were injured when Specialist Ivan Lopez, 34, opened fire on post last Wednesday afternoon.
Lopez was angry over being denied leave time and had just argued with fellow soldiers before he started firing with a .45-caliber handgun, according to Army officials.
As Obama returned to Fort Hood on Wednesday, he brought little in the way of solutions to offer a society that has been confounded by the frequency of events that have jolted Americans out of their sense of security. For a president who is on the path to ending two wars, warding off violence at home has proved an elusive challenge.
Those close to Obama say he sees his role after a tragedy as fulfilling a ministerial function for the nation. Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser and longtime friend, said although it's painful for Obama, he understands the importance for the president to show leadership, empathy and strength in times of crisis, and for him to spend time with each family member affected.
"It's hard because it's deeply personal for him," Jarrett said in an interview. "He identifies as a father, as a husband, as a son, as a family member."
The last time Obama came to Fort Hood, he told residents of the Central Texas community that the 13 lives they lost would endure, their legacies safeguarded by the nation whose protection they had made their life's work.
"Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that is their legacy," Obama said, adopting the role of comforter-in-chief for the first time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.