Thursday, November 12, 2009
Staff Sgt. Paul Martin was in the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood, Texas, waiting to receiving a final medical checkup before shipping out to Iraq. That's when Maj. Nidal Hasan allegedly jumped on a table and opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun.
Martin grew up in Adel, Ga., playing basketball and avoiding class work as much as possible. He had no intention of joining the Army, but his cousin wanted to. The two of them were playing basketball one afternoon.
Martin said he was initially reluctant to join, but once in, he was enthusiastic.
"After I got in, I just loved it, and I just became a soldier," he says. "It's the discipline. I'm always on time where I need to be, and I just love it."
'Golly, This Hurts'
Twenty-seven blissful years of Army life later, last Thursday Martin was at the Soldier Readiness Center getting his final check before deploying to Iraq. He says the first moment he knew something was wrong was when he felt a sudden sharp pain in his arm.
"Then when it hit in my arm, I grabbed my arm and I realized, I ain't never been hit that hard," he says. "I said, 'Golly, this hurts.'
"And then I looked at my hand, my hand was just covered in blood, but I was laying on the floor, and the floor was covered with blood, and in mind, I said, 'I got to get out of this building."
Martin won't talk about the alleged gunman, Major Hasan. The Army is concerned that anything the wounded or witnesses might say regarding the alleged shooter's actions, which killed 13 people, could compromise the prosecution. But Martin was allowed to talk about what happened to him, and he says that in the span of a few seconds the Readiness Center erupted into chaos.
He said it sounded like "a cannon going off."
Shot Several Times
There are reports that as Hasan allegedly began to methodically choose and kill his victims that some soldiers fought back by throwing chairs and tables at him. More than 100 rounds were fired, and people were getting shot, some fatally, every few seconds. Martin decided to make a run for the door, but that was a mistake. He stood up and sprinted, but the gunman saw him, aimed and shot him in the back.
He said he hit the floor, and began low-crawling to get out of the building.
Martin was hit twice more: in the back and once the leg. The wound through his midsection is the most serious, but though he was bleeding badly, he was still conscious.
"I ... remember the way I came in there, and I was trying to remember the way ... I was trying to get out," Martin says. "My mind was, 'Get out of this building, and we work out everything else later.'"
The staff sergeant's training kicked in, and he Army-crawled on his knees and elbows, adrenaline coursing through his veins, a blood trail on the floor behind him. He managed to crawl behind a partition near the door and, astonishingly, despite his wounds, he got to his feet and ran for the glass doors again. This time he made it outside.
An unimaginable scene of horror still played out behind him, coming toward him was a much happier sight: the U.S. Army running to the rescue as fast as their feet will carry them. Soldiers grabbed the obviously wounded sergeant, pulled him to a place out of the line of fire, laid him down on the grass and begin to administer fist aid.
"I had a bullet wound in my arm, my leg, and some hit me in my back," Martin says. "They say I was shot four times."
Two surgeries later, Martin has staples in his stomach, stitches in his back, and a vein from his leg has been moved to his arm. Incredibly, he still plans to join his unit in Iraq once he's fully recovered and promises that will be sooner than everyone thinks. The boy from Adel, Ga., who had no intention of joining the military says he loves his Army life.
"They don't care about where you're from. How big your town is, how much money you got, none of that. ... Everybody's on the same level no matter who you are," Martin says.
By the end of the day Wednesday, Martin was demonstrating just how gung-ho he was, moving out of the hospital and into the Fisher Recovery House across the street.