Unarmed soldiers caught up in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage as they were preparing to leave for Afghanistan went into combat mode, playing dead to avoid direct gunfire and refusing to leave their fallen comrades behind, a court heard.
Most took just moments to realise that the chaos of gunfire, smoke and lasers dancing across walls and bodies was not a drill and their survival instincts and military training kicked in.
“I laid back down on the ground and played dead,” Spc Alan Carroll told a military court at the Texas base.
“I tried to get up again and was shot again in the leg. I was holding my breath, trying not to move. ... If I was moving, I thought he would come to me.”
Spc Carroll, who was shot several times in the November 5, 2009 attack, gave evidence via a video link from Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The hearing will determine if Major Nidal Hasan, who has been charged with 13 counts of pre-meditated murder and 32 counts of attempted pre-meditated murder, should stand trial.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.
Staff Sgt Paul Martin said he also threw himself to the ground and played dead, while Spc Grant Moxon told the court he played dead by lying across his squadron leader in the hope of protecting the already wounded man from the onslaught of bullets.
“He was bleeding pretty badly. He was my squadron leader. I kind of tried to help him,” said Spc Moxon, a member of the 467th Medical Detachment that had arrived at Fort Hood a day earlier. Hasan was supposed to deploy with the 467th.
Spc Carroll said he tried to concentrate on helping his friend, Pfc Aaron Thomas Nemelka, who had been shot in the neck.
“The only person I could see from the ground was Pfc Nemelka,” he said . “I ... told him to roll over on his stomach and play dead.”
Spc Carroll, who was subsequently shot in the back and leg, said he could have reached the door and escaped, but that his training prevented him from fleeing the bloodshed without the gravely wounded Pfc Nemelka.
“I’d been told to never leave a fallen comrade. That’s what was going through my mind. I needed to get out, but I needed to get him out with me,” said Spc Carroll, who was sent to Afghanistan 10 months ago.
Pfc Nemelka and Spc Carroll had entered the building with two other buddies, Spc Frederick Greene and Pfc Michael Pearson. Spc Carroll was the only one of the four who survived the attack.
On the second day of the hearing, several witnesses again said army psychiatrist Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar!” – “God is Great!” in Arabic - before unleashing a volley of gunfire in a centre where soldiers undergo medical tests before deploying.
They said Hasan started firing toward a crowded waiting area, then walked around and shot soldiers trying to hide under desks, chairs or tables and only paused to reload.
In the days after the shooting, reports emerged that the 40-year-old American-born Muslim had been trying to get out of his pending deployment because he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hasan has been paralysed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers shot him during the attack and attended the hearing in a wheelchair.