LACEY, Thurston County — The first bullet pierced Shawn Manning’s sternum, collapsed his lung and tore off a piece of his liver. As he tried to crawl for cover, five more bullets struck his body in his thigh, back, foot and side.
Manning, a civilian mental-health counselor at Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, suffered these wounds during the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting rampage by Maj. Nidal Hasan at an Army processing center at Fort Hood, Texas.
Manning, who had been called back to active duty with a reserve unit, was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan in a combat stress team.
But the carnage of war was unleashed that day inside the Texas brick building as Hasan, an Army psychiatrist scheduled to be part of Manning’s team, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others.
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Since that day, Manning, 37, has suffered many sleepless nights roiled by the memories of that slaughter.
Today, he’ll fly to Texas to testify as a witness for the prosecution in Hasan’s long delayed court-martial in which the defendant faces 13 counts of premedit
ated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder and a possible death sentence. Now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, Hasan will act as his own attorney with the rights to question Manning and other survivors.
“It will be hard not to respond in a negative way and keep my composure,” Manning said in an recent interview at his home in Lacey. “It’s like you have to be cordial to the guy that tried to murder you and kill your friends. It doesn’t sit well with me.”
Investigations of the killings — and Hasan’s own statements — indicate the Army major became drawn to an extremist view of Islam and disillusioned by U.S. military conduct in Afghanistan.
Manning recalls that just before the start of the shooting, Hasan declared “Allahu akbar”(God is great) and then methodically fired a pistol at fellow soldiers as if they were targets in a shooting gallery.
Manning says he heard the muffled sounds of bullets and struggled to breathe through lungs filling with fluid. Minutes into the shooting, he scrambled to a safe area outside the building.
Doctors would later marvel at all the fortunate angles the bullets took as they skirted vital organs.
“I felt unlucky to be there. But I am probably the luckiest unlucky person I know to have survived that,” Manning said.
Within weeks of the shooting, Manning returned to Madigan Army Medical Center. He was first stationed there in 2001 on active duty. He then became a civilian mental-health counselor, occasionally taking leave to join reserve units headed overseas.
After the Fort Hood shooting, he returned to Madigan as a patient.
Manning stayed in the Warrior Transition Battalion, a unit for wounded and ailing soldiers, for 2½ years. His physical wounds healed more quickly than the mental wounds. He is now medically retired from the Army, partly from a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
During his recovery, Manning thought a lot about his future.
Manning, who was raised in Idaho and Oregon, had married just a month before the shooting. He contemplated getting as far away from the military as possible. Perhaps a job in technology or human resources.
“It definitely weighed heavily on my mind, and I wasn’t sure how I would respond to soldiers who had been through trauma,” Manning said
He also was angry at the Army, which had designated his injuries non-combat-related, a decision that he estimates denied him $30,000 or more in compensation.
Yet, he also believed that his own experiences as a patient who had navigated the complicated medical retirement process might make him a better counselor.
“As a soldier, who would you want to talk to?” Manning asked. “A guy who is a civilian, who never deployed and never had anything bad happen to him? Or someone who has been through a lot of the same things, and in a lot of cases even worse? “
So eight months ago, Manning went back to work at Madigan as a civilian mental- health counselor. He is embedded with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a unit that returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier last year after a tough deployment in Afghanistan.
Manning says that he has some difficult days, when things seem a little overwhelming. But overall, things are OK. If he thinks it might help a soldier, he sometimes shares a bit of what happened that day in November.
As he prepares for the court-martial, Manning’s thoughts frequently return to the November day in Texas, and sleep is even harder to come by. The 13 dead included a pregnant soldier and a friend who died while trying to rush Hasan and take him down.
“I just wish this would go away,” he said. “But I’m glad to get the trial over with.”
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org