Monday, August 12, 2013

'Combat lifesavers' enabled survivors to evade Hasan

Most thought attack at SRP was 'training'

Ft. Hood –  Operant conditioning is an industrial psychology principle used to ready men and women for everything from fighting fires and space flight to conducting courtroom procedures and keeping books. It works great when bullets fly and blood flows.

Staff Sergeant Christopher Burgess was with the same Signal Batallion he's with today when Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan burst into the Soldier Readiness Center, screamed something in Arabic, and started killing. He's been on this bleak post for five years.

A buck sergeant at the time, one moment he was watching TV and talking with other soldiers who were preparing to deploy, the next, a “heavy-set, balding man” started screaming in the Arabic language and firing on the group with whom he was sitting a few minutes after 1 p.m. on that fateful Thursday, Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5, 2009.

As he testified, an Army prosecutor asked him, “Did anything happen that made you question if it was a training exercise?”

He answered readily, “There was blood on the floor, the smell of blood, urine, and then somebody started screaming, 'It's a real gun. It's a real gun.'”

From that moment on, the former Army psychiatrist had people in Building 42003 pinned down. If they ran to the south, he headed them off and forced them to go back to the north end of the building. When they tried to escape out of doors at the north end, from the commanding area between Stations 12, 13 and 14 where he had excellent, multiple fields of fire, he forced then back to the south.

How did he feel as he dealt with the situation, the prosecutor asked Sgt. Burgess.

“Try to get the hell out of there, sir.” Sgt. Burgess is a veteran of deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has experienced combat – many times.

There you have it. The training regimen Hasan assigned himself at Stan's Shooting Range near Florence, Texas – where he burned up as much as two to three hundred dollars worth of ammo each week practicing on a rifle range 100 yards in length while using a laser sight – paid off as he emptied magazines and replaced them while keeping up a continuous rate of fire.

Every wounded survivor who has testified so far came away with the same impression. The firing did not slow down, or even waver.

The impression is accurate when compared to a 911 call played for the jurors as Shemeka Hairston testified about her reactions during the deadly assault.

Unable to suppress her emotions, she sobbed profusely as an audio recording played the non-stop sound of the pistol firing, with no pause between reloading. Though she was at first confused and panicked, her previous 4 years of experience told her what she was hearing was gunfire. She called 911 immediately.

And then, just like Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot 7 times, Sgt. Burgess, First Sgt. Maria Guerra, and dozens of others, her training took over. It's a vital program called Combat Lifesavers that teaches – inculcates and conditions – troopers to adapt, improvise and overcome the worst of the worst, to use belts as tourniquets, battle dressings to suppress bleeding, to make vital decisions as to which of their wounded comrades are goners, and which ones will make it if they get the minimum of care and some help getting to an aide station, thence to a waiting ambulance.

Those who can still move, run, crawl, walk – they are encouraged to boogie, and get out fast. If there is an ambush waiting for them, they are warned to hide, watch, wait.

Each witness has told the story the same way because that is how it is. Hasan targeted fellow soldiers wearing the Army's combat uniform, the camouflaged, light green combat fatigues and desert boots, long-sleeved tunics and undershirts.

The troopers reacted by doing exactly the thing they have been trained to do under simulated conditions using live fire with blank rounds, smoke and flash-bang grenades and yelling, harrassing NCO's.

And they excelled.

Had they not, they would not have be seated in the witness stand at the Williams Justice Center, responding to questions by the prosecutors.

We the people are witnessing a parade of heros who are unaware of their superlative performance.

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