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Heroes' actions stemmed Army loss

By Allen G. Breed And Jeff Carlton

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 7 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Emergency personnel transport an unidentified soldier from the Soldier Readiness Center following a shooting that killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, on Thursday.

David Morris, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

FORT HOOD, Texas — Pfc. Marquest Smith, on his way to Afghanistan in January, was completing routine paperwork about a bee-sting allergy when the sounds erupted.

A loud, popping noise. Moans. The sudden, urgent shout of "Gun!"

Smith poked his head over the cubicle's partition and saw an extraordinary sight: An Army officer with two guns, firing into the crowded room.

The 21-year-old Fort Worth native quickly grabbed the civilian worker who'd been helping with his paperwork and forced her under the desk. He lay low for several minutes, waiting for the shooter to run out of ammunition and wishing he, too, had a gun.

After the shooter stopped to reload, Smith made a run for it. Pushing two other soldiers in front of him, he made it out of the Soldier Readiness Processing center — only to plunge into the building twice more to help the wounded.

Smith had survived the worst mass shooting on an American military base, a rampage that left 13 dead and 30 wounded, including the alleged shooter, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

It could have been much worse, but for the heroics of Smith and others — like the 19-year-old private who ignored her own wounds, and the diminutive civilian police officer who single-handedly took down Hasan.

"Unfortunately over the past eight years, our Army has been no stranger to tragedy," said a somber Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff. "But we are an Army that draws strength from adversity. And hearing the stories of courage and heroism that I heard today makes me proud to be the leader of this great Army."

Home of the 1st Cavalry and 1st Army Division West, Fort Hood has seen more than its share of deployments and casualties in the past eight years.

As a psychiatrist, Hasan, 39, had listened to soldiers' tales of horror. Now, the American-born Muslim was facing imminent deployment to Afghanistan. In recent days, Hasan had been saying goodbye to friends. He had given away many of his possessions, including copies of the Quran.

At 2:37 a.m. Thursday and again around 5, Hasan called neighbor Willie Bell. Bell could normally hear Hasan's morning prayers through the thin apartment walls, but Hasan skipped the ritual Thursday.

Bell didn't pick up either time, but Hasan left a message.

"Nice knowing you, old friend," Hasan said. "I'm going to miss you."

About an hour later, surveillance cameras at a 7-Eleven across from the base captured images of a smiling Hasan, dressed in a long white garment and white kufi prayer cap, buying his usual breakfast — coffee and a hash brown.

At the processing center around 1:30 p.m., witnesses say a man later identified as Hasan jumped up on a desk and shouted the words "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" He was armed with two pistols, one a semiautomatic capable of firing up to 20 rounds without reloading.

Packed into cubicles with 5-foot-high dividers, the 300 unarmed soldiers were sitting ducks. Those who weren't hit by direct fire were struck by rounds ricocheting off the desks and tile floor.

When he decided that Hasan wasn't close to being out of ammo, Smith made a dash for the door. He'd made it outside when he heard cries from within.

"I don't want to die."

"This really hurts."

"Help me get out of here."

Smith rushed back inside and found two wounded. He grabbed them by their collars and dragged them outside.

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