Saturday, November 07, 2009

In the Line of Fire: Fort Hood First Responders Heroically Save Lives

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 6, 2009 - "Pop, pop, pop." Those were the sounds Fort Hood's first responders heard when they arrived at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center here Thursday. Inside the center, among rows of waiting chairs and blood draw stations, innocent people were dying. A gunman was shooting into the crowded screening area. Panicked soldiers, desperate to survive, were breaking out windows and trying their hardest to find a way to safety.

Soldiers' excitement and anxiety about an upcoming deployment were tossed aside, replaced by the reality of broken glass, blood and bullets when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, allegedly shot and killed 13 soldiers and wounded 30 others.

Army Secretary John McHugh said it was the heroic actions of Fort Hood's first responders that prevented a bad situation from getting worse.

"Their actions saved lives," he said during a press conference here Friday.

Hoping to bring an end to the chaos inside the post deployment readiness center, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, an officer with Fort Hood's Department of Emergency Services, and Senior Sgt. Mark Todd, K-9 Division, DES, moved in to the fight. According to Todd, as soon as officers pulled up to the scene, people were pointing them in the direction of the shooter.

Hasan reportedly started firing on Todd and Munley, who took cover behind a vehicle. Munley left her cover to pursue the shooter and Todd followed around the other side of the building, where the major was hiding. When Todd looked around the corner of the building, he saw Munley on the ground. She had been shot.

Hasan was hiding behind a light post and firing at people who were fleeing the scene. Todd recalls firing five shots at Hasan. The major fell. Todd then confiscated Hasan's weapons and cuffed him. The entire exchange between Todd and the gunman lasted less than 45 seconds.

"We did just like we were trained to do...shouting commands and working as a team," Todd said. "We had no time to feel anything, just to react."

While law enforcement officers drew fire away from the trapped soldiers, medics from the site and the neighboring graduation ceremony at Howze Theater began treating the wounded as best they could. Plastic tables were used as makeshift stretchers to move the wounded from the bloody building and get them evacuated to medical facilities.

Todd then started helping provide lifesaving care to wounded troops who were scattered around the readiness area; both inside and outside. Afterwards, Todd had the time to reflect on all that had happened.

"I felt so much for the wounded and the dead and their families," he said.. "I didn't feel guilty about shooting someone while doing my job; the only guilty feeling I had was that we didn't get there sooner."

After ambulances cleared out the wounded and most of the concerned crowd had dispersed, units across Fort Hood began the emotionally exhausting mission of dealing with their losses.

The 36th Engineer Brigade had about 200 soldiers at the site working on deployment preparations after lunch. Less than two hours later, the engineer unit had more soldiers wounded and killed than any other unit on post during the incident.

"Every member of our organization was impacted by this tragic incident in some way," said Lt. Col. Jason E. Kelly, deputy commander, 36th Engineer Brigade.

"Commanders and senior noncommissioned officers were able to visit with these brave young men and women last night and their spirits are extremely high," Kelly said. "These soldiers represent everything that is good about America."

Many of the soldiers visited by the brigade leadership downplayed the severity of their injuries. The wounded showed more concern about the welfare of their fellow troops and families, he said.

The post and local community are making sure those soldiers are taken care of and helping to put those soldiers' minds at ease. A Fort Hood Grieving Center has been established and has both chaplains and counselors available to soldiers and families.

"We take care of our own. We will grieve as a family," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey during a Friday press conference on Sadowski Field. "We will stay focused on our missions around the world."

(Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante is with Special Troops Battalion, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas)

Obama Praises Fort Hood Responders in Weekly Address

American Forces Press Service

Nov. 7, 2009 - President Barack Obama expressed his sorrow over the tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, and praised the soldiers and civilians who responded to aid the wounded in his weekly address to the nation today. Here is the president's address:

"I'd like to speak with you for a few minutes today about the tragedy that took place at Ft. Hood. This past Thursday, on a clear Texas afternoon, an Army psychiatrist walked into the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, and began shooting his fellow soldiers.

"It is an act of violence that would have been heartbreaking had it occurred anyplace in America. It is a crime that would have horrified us had its victims been Americans of any background. But it's all the more heartbreaking and all the more despicable because of the place where it occurred and the patriots who were its victims.

"The SRP is where our men and women in uniform go before getting deployed. It's where they get their teeth checked and their medical records updated and make sure everything is in order before getting shipped out. It was in this place, on a base where our soldiers ought to feel most safe, where those brave Americans who are preparing to risk their lives in defense of our nation, lost their lives in a crime against our nation.

"Soldiers stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world called and emailed loved ones at Ft. Hood, all expressing the same stunned reaction: I'm supposed to be the one in harm's way, not you.

"Thursday's shooting was one of the most devastating ever committed on an American military base. And yet, even as we saw the worst of human nature on full display, we also saw the best of America. We saw soldiers and civilians alike rushing to aid fallen comrades; tearing off bullet-riddled clothes to treat the injured; using blouses as tourniquets; taking down the shooter even as they bore wounds themselves.

"We saw soldiers bringing to bear on our own soil the skills they had been trained to use abroad; skills that been honed through years of determined effort for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect and defend the United States of America.

"We saw the valor, selflessness, and unity of purpose that make our servicemen and women the finest fighting force on Earth; that make the United States military the best the world has ever known; and that make all of us proud to be Americans.

"On Friday, I met with FBI Director Mueller, Defense Secretary Gates, and representatives of the relevant agencies to discuss their ongoing investigation into what led to this terrible crime. And I'll continue to be in close contact with them as new information comes in.

"We cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing. But what we do know is that our thoughts are with every single one of the men and women who were injured at Ft. Hood. Our thoughts are with all the families who've lost a loved one in this national tragedy. And our thoughts are with all the Americans who wear – or who've worn – the proud uniform of the United States of America; our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen, and the military families who love and support them.

"In tribute to those who fell at Ft. Hood, I've ordered flags flying over the White House, and other federal buildings to be lowered to half-staff from now until Veterans Day next Wednesday. Veterans Day is our chance to honor those Americans who've served on battlefields from Lexington to Antietam, Normandy to Manila, Inchon to Khe Sanh, Ramadi to Kandahar.

"They are Americans of every race, faith, and station. They are Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers. They are descendents of immigrants and immigrants themselves. They reflect the diversity that makes this America. But what they share is a patriotism like no other. What they share is a commitment to country that has been tested and proved worthy. What they share is the same unflinching courage, unblinking compassion, and uncommon camaraderie that the soldiers and civilians of Ft. Hood showed America and showed the world.

"These are the men and women we honor today. These are the men and women we'll honor on Veterans Day. And these are the men and women we shall honor every day, in times of war and times of peace, so long as our nation endures."