By CHUCK CANNON
Fort Polk Guardian staff writer
FORT POLK, La. — Nov. 5, 2009, dawned like most any other day for Pvt. Alan Carroll. The 20-year-old native of Anchorage, Alaska, had recently finished combat engineer training and was assigned to the 510th Sapper Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas.
“There was nothing real significant about the day,” Carroll said. “Just a normal day.”
But by day’s end, it would be anything but insignificant as Carroll and more than 40 of his friends, fellow Soldiers and Army civilians would be wounded by Maj. Nidal Hasan in a shooting at the sprawling post in central Texas.
On May 21, Staff Sgt. Alan Carroll was awarded the Purple Heart during a ceremony at Fort Polk for the wounds he received in the shooting on Nov. 5, 2009, based on recent legislation that authorized those injured in the attack to receive the medal.
Carroll recently reflected on the day that changed his life. His unit was preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan that day, and he and some of his buddies were waiting to be checked by medical personnel after receiving their smallpox vaccinations. At about 1:30 p.m., their lives would change forever.
“Me and three of my buddies were sitting there, waiting for our turn to be seen and talking about what we were going to do that weekend,” Carroll said. “I heard someone shout, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ and I looked up to see what was going on.”
Carroll said he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, so he continued visiting with friends and they laughed the incident off. He noticed a Soldier, later identified as Hasan, standing up, but Carroll said everything seemed OK. Moments later, Carroll said he heard a few loud pops.
“I didn’t know what it was until I felt a pain in my left shoulder, like I had been hit with a baseball bat or something,” he said. “It really hurt and I thought I had been hit by a rubber bullet, then I realized I was bleeding.”
Carroll said he looked around the room and saw pools of blood forming in several places. He said his instant reaction was to lie on the floor and “play dead.”
“I tried to get one of my friends to do the same thing, but shock and the chaos of what was happening kept him from moving,” Carroll said. “When I heard the shooter behind me, I grabbed my friend by his pants legs, dragged him to the ground and told him to roll over and play dead.”
As his friend rolled over, the shooter came by and fired a few more shots, with one striking Carroll’s friend in the neck.
“I realized how serious my friend’s wound was, so I went from thinking about waiting it out, to moving my friend to safety,” Carroll said. “I picked him up and tried to remove him from the building, but as I was moving, I heard a few more shots and one of them hit me in the back.”
Carroll said he immediately dropped to the ground and tried to block out the pain even though it was getting more difficult to breathe. He said he stood up and turned towards where he suspected the shooter would be located. He was able to pull his buddy a few feet closer to the door when the shooter returned.
“I laid my friend on the ground and just stared at him (Hasan),” Carroll said. “I know it was probably only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity that we stared at each other; I said to myself, ‘This is the end.’”
The shooter fired a few more shots and one went into Carroll’s leg bouncing off his femur and knocking him to the ground. As he lay in a growing pool of blood, Carroll said he started to get light-headed and knew that if he didn’t leave at that very moment he might die. He said he recalled two Army Values — “Never leave a fallen comrade” and “Never quit.”
“I continued to try and pull my friend closer to the door,” he said. “And I looked at the bottom of my pants leg and saw that it was covered with blood. I knew I had to act quickly. I told my buddy, ‘We’ve got to leave now.’”
Once again, the shooter returned and fired another shot at Carroll, striking him in his right bicep. Carroll said he noticed that with the amount of blood loss and the difficulty he had breathing, that he needed to get to safety before the shooter came back.
“I looked at my buddy and said, “I’ve lost too much blood; I can’t pull you anymore,’” Carroll said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Help me, please.’ But I told him, “Look, I can’t. I’ve got to go.’”
Carroll made his way out of the building and told two officers about the active shooter. He said he then collapsed.
When he came to, Carroll said he was lying in a dental chair in a large gym on Fort Hood. He said medical personnel were around him telling him he would be OK and to keep still.
“I remember yelling, ‘What’s going on? Where’s my friend?’” he said. “They told me he was fine, then I passed out.”
Carroll said he regained consciousness in the ambulance ride to the hospital and that another member of his unit who had been injured was in the ambulance with him.
“He looked at me and asked, ‘Are you good?’” Carroll said. “I said yes, then passed out again.”
When Carroll woke up, he was in Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood with his platoon sergeant by his side.
“He tried to keep me from talking about what happened, but I kept asking about my buddy,” Carroll said. “I eventually found out that of the four of us who went together there that day, I was the only one to make it. I don’t know how or why, but I made it.”
Carroll credits the leadership in his unit for helping him overcome the guilt he felt when he was unable to get his friend to safety and for being the only survivor from his group.
“If I didn’t have the leadership and support I had, I would really be messed up in the head,” Carroll said. “I was beating myself because I felt I had failed: I did leave a fallen comrade and I did give up on him. But they sat me down and explained to me that I did everything I could possibly do. They told me every decision I made that day was the right decision.
Carroll was admitted to the Darnall Army Medical Center and after a two-week recovery, the Army offered him a medical discharge. Carroll declined. He went through a rigorous rehabilitation regimen consisting of intense physical therapy and his own physical fitness recovery plan, and on Dec. 23, 2009 he was cleared to deploy to Afghanistan.
“I don’t think about that day too often,” Carroll said. “Mainly, when it gets close to Nov. 5 or on my buddies’ birthdays. One of the guys was a buddy I had gone through basic training with and we were real close. That weekend, his family was supposed to move down to Fort Hood and stay with him until we deployed because they hadn’t seen him in a while. His wife had been in college, and she and their two kids were coming into town to visit him. It was terrible.
“I think about them a lot, but not necessarily that day. They were my friends and I miss them.”
Carroll credits his Army training with his survival.
“I would tell any Soldier, ‘Don’t take for granted any training,’” he said. “Do your best at everything and don’t be satisfied with doing the minimum. Don’t just go through the paces because you never know when you’re going to need it. The battlefield could be anywhere. If you don’t take the training seriously and you’re not paying attention, it could cost you your life — or your friends’ lives.
“Facing contact on the ground in Afghanistan is a little late to realize that you should have been paying attention during training.”
Carroll said the events of that fateful day more than five years ago have made him a better Soldier and given him confidence.
“That was the absolute worst day in my life,” he said. “If I can survive that, and come back stronger than ever, then I have the confidence that I can make it through most any obstacle.”