Fort Hood: A Wounded Soldier Speaks

Alan Carroll laughed when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan jumped up from his desk in the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood military base and shouted "Allahu Akbar!" Carroll, a 20-year-old private second class, had been waiting all day to get the remainder of his vaccines and medical exams so that he could deploy to Afghanistan. For the past half hour or so, Major Hasan had paced the floor of the spacious, gymnasiumlike room casting suspicious glances at Carroll and three friends, who were also preparing to deploy. But he figured the major—whom he'd never seen before—was just restless and goofing around. Even when the shooting started , and a bullet pierced the left side of Carroll's chest, the private assumed it was some sort of training exercise, maybe designed to test their response to close-range fire. "My first thought was 'Wow that really hurts for a rubber bullet,' " Carroll says. "But he kept shooting and all of a sudden there was blood flying all over the place."

Carroll, a short, stocky soldier whose physique hints at his days as a high-school wrestler, dove to the ground face down. For the next several minutes he alternated between playing dead and scanning the horrified crowd for his friends. When the gunman wasn't looking, he pulled one comrade—who'd also been shot in the chest—out of a chair to the floor. Across the room, he saw another friend tangled in a bunch of chairs, screaming. With one eye on the gunman, who was still walking the room firing random shots, Carroll crawled to the other private. "Every time the major came in my direction I would stop moving, put my head down and play dead," he said. "And when he saw me move, he shot at me."

By the time he reached the other soldier, Carroll had sustained two additional bullet wounds: one in his left arm, one in his left leg. Still, when the gunman wasn't looking, Carroll scurried to untangle his friend from the mess of chairs. When he accidentally knocked a chair over, he froze. "I knew [the shooter] heard it, and I knew he was coming back to me," he says. "I was trying to pull my buddy out, but my leg wouldn't cooperate anymore." When the gunman fired a fourth shot at Carroll, hitting him in the right shoulder, Carroll fell to the floor. Soon after, Hasan turned his attention elsewhere, walking to the far end of the large room. Stunned and badly wounded, Carroll fled, half running, half stumbling through a nearby door. It would take another hour before medics reached him. Neither of the soldiers he tried to save would make it out alive.

In the days since, the young soldier has struggled to come to terms with the loss, and with his newfound status. "Everyone keeps calling me a hero," he says. "But I don't agree. If I was a hero, my buddies would still be alive." On Saturday, George W. Bush paid Carroll and his fellow soldiers a visit. The former president's first question: where was Carroll wounded? "When I told him, he said 'Wow! That'll show 'em it takes more than a few bullets to put a good soldier down.' "

Carroll had been out of boot camp for just over a year when last week's massacre claimed the lives of 13 soldiers. With multiple generations on both sides of his family having served in the armed forces, Carroll considers the military his family business. He describes the edict of "never leave a fallen comrade behind" as the most sacred of his duties. Friends and family describe Carroll as loyal, dedicated and eager to help others. He joined the National Guard at 17 but quickly decided one weekend a month was not enough. "I wanted to call myself a soldier," he says. "And I figured it was my time to honor the family tradition of military service." So when he turned 18, he joined the Army. Family and friends say it's the only plan he ever really had for his life, and recent events have not changed that.

"He's an unbelievable soldier, and he's in it for the long haul," says his mother, who flew down to Texas from her home in New Jersey immediately after the shooting, along with Carroll's stepfather and younger brother. "I couldn't be more frightened, but I couldn't be more proud."

Carroll was released from the hospital Saturday evening and is staying with his grandmother who lives near Fort Hood. He's received a steady stream of visits and phone calls from other members of his unit. He'll return to work after two weeks rest, and still hopes to be in Afghanistan by January. But while his doctors expect him to make a full recovery, they can't say for certain when he'll be ready for combat. "They won't give me any timeframe," he says. "I've still got a bunch of holes that need to heal up."