FORT HOOD, Texas — Returning again to a grief-stricken corner of America, President Barack Obama is reprising his role as chief comforter, mourning with families of those killed last week at Fort Hood and offering solace to the nation.
It's a duty Obama has had to fulfill far too often.
Tucson. Aurora. Newtown. Boston. Washington Navy Yard. Fort Hood — twice.
The names of these communities have all become synonymous with tragedy in the five years since Obama took office, each challenging the president to find ways to impart meaning to senseless death.
"Increasingly, giving these eulogies has become a central responsibility for our presidents," said Michael Waldman, who helped write many eulogies as President Bill Clinton's chief speechwriter. "A president is not just a political leader. He is the head of state and speaks for the whole country."
But as Obama returns to Fort Hood on Wednesday, he brings 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.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived late Wednesday morning at Fort Hood, where the camouflage fatigues of troops standing to salute his passing motorcade almost blended in with the desert terrain. Flags were lowered to half-staff at the sprawling Army base in central Texas, where Obama was meeting with victims' relatives before offering his public condolences.
The memorial was to take place at the same spot on the base where Obama eulogized victims of another mass shooting in 2009.
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.