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Fort Hood Shooting Survivor Keeps Memory Alive

MADISON -- Dorothy "Dorrie" Carskadon was sitting in a chair next to a room divider, her backpack containing paperwork at her feet when she heard "Get down! Get down!"

That's strange, she thought. Another training scenario?

She and her Madison-based Army Reserves unit already had been through a lot of training simulating Humvee rollovers, kicking in doors and firing exercises using plastic bullets. It seemed kind of odd to have another surprise training exercise, especially when she was in a building filled with deploying soldiers turning in forms for next of kin, getting smallpox shots and being fitted for earplugs.

But Carskadon had spent many years in the Army, including deployment to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf War. When someone yells to get down, you get down.

Lying on the floor she looked over and saw a young woman crying.

"She was yelling 'My baby, my baby' and I told her, 'It's a training exercise, they'll come and help you first,' " recalled Carskadon.

It was Nov. 5, 2009. It was Fort Hood. It wasn't a training exercise.

Carskadon still carries a bullet in her leg, shrapnel in her head and the memories of several comrades cut down in a hail of bullets fired by an Army psychiatrist. She has given few media interviews and has rarely spoken publicly about that day.

But Carskadon, 50, a social worker at the Vet Center in Madison, worries that people will soon forget about the Fort Hood massacre and the sacrifices of the 13 people killed and 32 people wounded as well as the emotional toll on her unit, the 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment, and a sister unit that deployed to Afghanistan soon after the shooting. Everyone who was not wounded in the combat stress units was given the option of staying home; everyone volunteered to go to Afghanistan, where they counseled service members, responded to individual crises and group trauma, and taught classes on stress and anger management.

She wonders why the soldiers killed that day, including Sgt. Amy Krueger of Kiel and Capt. Russell Seager of Mount Pleasant, are not included in national and state lists of fallen heroes like others involved in Operation Enduring Freedom. And she thinks it's wrong that the Fort Hood victims did not qualify for Purple Hearts because the rampage was officially deemed workplace violence.

"Every single one of these soldiers should be here," she said while scanning the list of fallen heroes on Wisconsin's Department of Veterans Affairs website. "These people died in the line of duty for Operation Enduring Freedom."

The Fort Hood wounded received medical care, but earning a Purple Heart would have given them more benefits. Also, because the wounded ended up not serving a year overseas on active duty with their units, they did not qualify for G.I. bill educational benefits, Carskadon said. She said she's not seeking a Purple Heart for herself because her extensive wounds meant she qualified for VA benefits, but she wants to see her colleagues honored.

Training and preparing

The 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment already had gone through months of training before deployment and traveled by bus from Kansas the day before the shooting, arriving around midnight. They were up at 4 the next morning for breakfast and a long bus ride to the main post at the sprawling military base in central Texas. The Wisconsin soldiers spent all morning waiting in lines.

By 1 p.m. Carskadon was happy most of the things on her to-do list had been checked off, though she still didn't have dog tags, helmet or body armor.

She remembered hearing someone yell "Allahu akbar," which in Arabic means "God is great," and then hearing someone else yelling at everyone to get down. Carskadon didn't know Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and had never seen him before. She didn't see him stand up on a long table in the large room divided by small room dividers, pull out handguns and begin firing.

Carskadon crawled to the young pregnant woman who was crying. She later found out it was Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, of Chicago. Velez died in the shooting.

"She grabs on to me. I'm like, 'It's OK, calm down.' As I'm talking to her I see a hole in the divider and I'm thinking 'Boy, those plastic bullets are strong,' " Carskadon said in an interview at her Madison apartment. "It literally does not occur to me ever that this is real."

As people began fleeing and diving for cover, some were jumping over the divider next to Carskadon and Velez, and Carskadon worried that she was going to get stepped on. Then she raised up to a crouch and noticed her right leg felt numb and again thought the plastic bullets were incredibly real-like.

Blood from her head began dripping onto Carskadon's uniform sleeve. Then another bullet slammed into her.

"I get hit in the stomach. I think, 'OK, I'm done with this training exercise.' It was the worst pain I've ever felt," she said.

She was hit four times. A bullet grazed her head, leaving behind shrapnel. Two bullets hit her in the hip, shattering her pelvis; one of the bullets remains in her thigh. The fourth bullet ripped through her abdomen. It led to an 11-inch surgical scar.

Carskadon saw a man in a blue uniform yell, "He's coming back! Triage, triage everyone. This isn't training." At some point, someone upended a chair over Carskadon to protect her. She heard another person yell for neonatal help, which she later figured was for Velez.

Eventually, Carskadon was helped up and walked to the desk where Hasan had been standing and firing point-blank at her colleagues and fellow soldiers. She was awake during a bumpy ride in an ambulance but was later told she underwent 15 hours of surgery. She also learned her heart stopped twice as doctors worked feverishly to save her. She's not sure how she found out, but by the time members of her unit came to visit her, she already knew Krueger and Seager were dead, as were three others from her unit and the 1908th Combat Stress Control Detachment.

The names of the five are etched in a black aluminum bracelet she always wears.

Hasan was charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder. He was shot four times in the attack, paralyzing him from the chest down, and now uses a wheelchair.

In September a military judge ruled that Hasan must be clean-shaven before his court martial can proceed or else he'll be forcibly shaved. Army regulations ban beards, but Hasan, who continues to receive military pay and benefits, contends he should be allowed to grow a beard because he's Muslim. The case is now tied up in appeals.

Carskadon said she rarely thinks about Hasan but would like to see his beard shaved off.

"I had to move on a long time ago. I'm a social worker. This is what I do for a living," said Carskadon, who credits her job counseling combat veterans with helping her cope.

"I do indeed believe Allahu akbar. I believe God is greatest because I'm Christian. I don't believe God intends for bad things to happen," she said.

Her bloody uniform was thrown away in the ER. It took awhile, but she eventually got the digital camera she had in her pocket that day, awash in her blood. About six months after the shooting she finally got the backpack where she kept her paperwork and a binder filled with her military documents.

A bullet had pierced the binder.

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