|Chris Haug, Capt. Elston brief national media prior to first day of Hasan trial|
"He knew he wasn't alive, but he hadn't realized it yet."
Ft. Hood – In the great scheme of war – hate – religious conflict, all this has happened before, many times. The massacre that occurred on Nov. 5, 2009, at this giant Army post situated on a raw Texas prairie is hardly unique.
Zealous men have killed in religious fervor, striking targets of opportunity by surprise; people in no position to defend themselves have perished in massacres, large and small.
This time, it's different. The world is taking time to remember, in near infinite detail, exactly how this happened, if not why, then how, their words evoking graphic images in the mind's eye as to exactly what did in fact occur.
As the witnesses respond to the expert questioning of an Army prosecutor who has had three and a half long years to prepare his case, long years spent poring over statements, reports, photos, video, the thing that strikes an observer is that in the midst of the horror and blood and gunsmoke, training – conditioning - kicks in.
People do what they have been trained to do, almost automatically, once the shock of events has worn off to some small degree, however slight.
Certainly, the mental pictures that come through rival those sketched in words by the likes of Stephen Crane and Ambrose Bierce, authors who wrote so eloquently of the smoke and confusion of the Civil War.
Highlights of two of the morning's witnesses at the trial of Major Abu Nidal Malik Hasan recall the fate of a trooper who was sitting up soldier straight in a chair in Area 13, the reception area of Soldier Readiness Processing Center, Building 42003.
Said Monique Archuleta, a nurse who worked for Sgt. First Class Maria Guerra, “He knew he wasn't alive, but he hadn't realized it yet.”
The soldier sitting next to him was slumped over; he had accepted his fate, but not Pvt. Aaron Nemelka. He was sitting up straight, staring straight ahead, his eyes unblinking, his affect neutral.
She and Sgt. Guerra were having lunch in her office when Major Hasan opened fire, so close, “You could hear the shells hitting the ground.” They hid under desks, and when they emerged, “It looked like the lights were out in the building. It was very dark because of the smoke from the bullets.”
Another soldier was waving his arm, shouting, “I'm here. I'm here.” She went to his aid, and soon realized that he was not making contact, that he was incoherent. “So I scanned his head and saw a bullet hole. Then I swiped my hand across the back of his head and it came away bloody, and there was brain matter on it.”
It was time to make a decision. In the classic model of triage, a simple medical complexity expressed in one French word, battlefield casualties are of three types. Some will get better and recover on their own, with minimal care. Others will respond well to treatment and eventually return to their units with the proper surgery or therapy.
In the third class, no matter what is done, the casualty will perish, a victim of war who died a soldier's death, facing an enemy - on a battlefield.
That was when the Non-commissioned Officer in Charge, Sergeant First Class Maria Guerra took charge.
When she emerged from the relative safety of her office, she recalled, the smoke grabbed her attention first.
“I can taste it, and I can see it.”
The lack of sound was an immediate source of her attention.
“It was silent. I could have heard a pin drop.
“Then, sound came back. I could hear people saying, 'Help me. I'm bleeding. I'm in shock.'
“So, I said, 'I'll get help”
The prosecutor asked her “What did you do?”
“I started to leave. Then, I said, 'Where the f____ am I going? My staff is in there.”
She yelled, “If you can walk, if you can run, get out! And everybody started to run.”
Then she started yelling, “Mass cal! Mass cal!,” which is Army parlance for mass casualties, and her people slowly came out of hiding and started to apply pressure bandages called “chucks.”
She yelled “Triage, triage, triage,” instructing her people to leave those who clearly were no more, telling them focus on those who could be evacuated, treated, or who could walk away on their own in order to get treatment. She ordered them to “Utilize belts!” It was something she had already done by threading her belt through the handles of an exit door to keep the shooter from getting back inside and renewing his attack. Her people undoubtedly save many lives fashioning makeshift tourniquets from their web belts. Someone else had stuck a chair between the door handles to prevent re-entry through another door.
Some people were clearly not quite over the shock.
“Someone was working on Mr. Nemelka again, and I yelled, 'He's dead!'”
So she decided to unfold blue chucks and put them over the heads of those who had clearly expired.
On some, she wrote with a marker pen, “D – 13:25.”
Did you do that?
“I did. I placed a blue chuck on Mr. Cahill, and I placed a blue chuck on Mr. Nemelka,” and then she broke down, taking long moments to regain her composure.
“After that, I focused on getting the bodies out.”
What happened then?
“After that, the cops came.”
What did they do?
“They yelled “Freeze! Don't anybody move,' so nobody moved, and I shouted out, 'Freeze, don't anybody move.'”
Outside, she spotted Major Abu Nidal Malik Hasan walking past the door, gun in hand, shooting, changing magazines in a smooth motion, and firing again.
She realized she had seen him before on a previous visit he made to the Soldier Readiness Processing to prepare for a deployment to Afghanistan.
He had refused to submit to a flu inoculation, so when her people brought him to her, she referred him to the Officer in Charge, a female Major, who also got nowhere with Hasan.
That was his first impression on the First Shirt at SRP. His second impression involved shooting and reloading in smooth, automatic movements that impressed everyone who saw him they should run, or hide.
“If you were moving, he was shooting at you; if you were trying to get away, he was shooting at you.”
When her questioner announced to the Court that he had no further questions, she asked, “Can I say something?”
Judge Tara Osborn, a full bird Colonel, thought for a moment, and woman to woman, she said, “We don't it that way, here. Lawyers ask you questions and you respond to the questions.”
A brief silence passed between the two women, and then it was time to tell the First Shirt that she was subject to recall, and she should not discuss her testimony with anyone until she is released from her subpoena.