Unarmed soldiers caught up in a deadly shooting rampage as they prepared to deploy from Fort Hood reacted as though they already had reached a combat zone, playing dead to avoid direct gunfire and refusing to leave fallen comrades behind.
Most took just moments to realize the chaos of gunfire, smoke and lasers dancing across walls and bodies was not a drill, and their survival instincts and military training kicked in.
"I laid back down on the ground and played dead," Spc. Alan Carroll told a military court Thursday. "I tried to get up again and was shot again in the leg. I was holding my breath, trying not to move. ... If I was moving, I thought he would come to me."
Carroll, who was shot several times in the Nov. 5 attack, testified at the hearing via video link from Kandahar, Afghanistan. The hearing will determine if Maj. Nidal Hasan, who has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, should stand trial.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.
Staff Sgt. Paul Martin said he also threw himself to the ground and played dead, while Spc. Grant Moxon told the court he did the same -- by lying across his squadron leader in hopes of protecting the already wounded man from the onslaught of bullets.
"He was bleeding pretty badly. He was my squadron leader. I kind of tried to help him," said Moxon, a member of the 467th Medical Detachment that had arrived at Fort Hood a day earlier. Hasan was supposed to deploy with the 467th.
Carroll said he tried to concentrate on helping his friend, Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, who had been shot in the neck.
"The only person I could see from the ground was Pfc. Nemelka," Carroll said. "I ... told him to roll over on his stomach and play dead."
Carroll, who was subsequently shot in the back and leg, said he could have reached the door and escaped, but that his training prevented him from fleeing the bloodshed without the gravely wounded Nemelka.
"I'd been told to never leave a fallen comrade. That's what was going through my mind. I needed to get out, but I needed to get him out with me," said Carroll, who was deployed to Afghanistan 10 months ago.
Nemelka and Carroll had entered the building with two other buddies, Spc. Frederick Greene and Pfc. Michael Pearson.
Carroll was the only one of the four who survived the attack.
Pfc. Najee Hull described how the shooter approached him and a friend he called "my battle buddy Johnson." Hull said he was shot in the knee and fell to the ground, but that his pal picked him up and carried him to safety.
Witnesses have testified Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- "God is Great!" in Arabic -- before unleashing a volley of gunfire in a center where soldiers undergo medical tests before deploying.
The 40-year-old American-born Muslim had been trying to get out of his pending deployment because he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had been saying goodbye to friends and neighbors, and had given away his Quran and other belongings.
1st Lt. Brandy Nicole Mason was among many soldiers in the processing center who wondered if it was a drill when gunfire broke out.
"Someone hollered: 'Training or not, get down! Get down!"' Mason testified.
Staff Sgt. Joy Clark told the court that one of two friends pulled her to the ground when the gunfire began. Lying on the floor, she called her friends' names, then checked their pulses. Capt. Russell Seager and Lt. Col. Juanita Warman had been fatally shot.
Earlier Thursday, Pfc. Najee Hull, who was shot in the knee and back, said the gunman had carried two weapons -- one "with a red laser on it" and one with a green laser. Earlier witness testimony described one of the guns as "old-fashioned." Initial witness reports said the shooter took some 100 shots at about 300 people at the center.
Another soldier wounded in the attack said the lasers were moving rapidly around the room.
"It looked like it was a light show, or some kind of laser. ... A light show from the weapon," Staff Sgt. Paul Martin told the court. Martin was shot in the left arm, left leg and lower right flank.
The prosecutor asked Hull if the gunman was in the courtroom. Hull looked to where Hasan sat, just a dozen feet away, and asked if he could remove his knit cap. Defense attorney John Galligan objected to the request to take off the hat, but Col. James L. Pohl -- a military judge presiding over the hearing as its investigating officer -- overruled the objection.
Hull stood up, looked at Hasan and said, "That's him."
Hasan has been paralyzed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers shot him during the attack. He attended the hearing seated in a wheelchair. While dressed in Army combat uniform, Hasan has been wearing the cap and sometimes has a blanket draped around his shoulders because the paralysis makes him cold.
Mason told the court Thursday that she hid behind some tables and waited for the noise of gunfire to subside.
"I didn't hear anything and peeked to look out. He had the gun pointed at my head. It was pointed at my head," said Mason, who was shot in the left thigh. She hid again and eventually was rescued by a SWAT team.
"I said, 'So he really shot me?' and they (the SWAT team) said, 'Yes ma'am."'