FORT HOOD, Texas — Pfc. Marquest Smith, on his way to Afghanistan in January, was completing routine paperwork about a bee-sting allergy when the sounds erupted.
A loud, popping noise. Moans. The sudden, urgent shout of "Gun!"
Smith poked his head over the cubicle's partition and saw an extraordinary sight: An Army officer with two guns, firing into the crowded room.
The 21-year-old Fort Worth native quickly grabbed the civilian worker who'd been helping with his paperwork and forced her under the desk. He lay low for several minutes, waiting for the shooter to run out of ammunition and wishing he, too, had a gun.
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After the shooter stopped to reload, Smith made a run for it. Pushing two other soldiers in front of him, he made it out of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center — only to plunge into the building twice more to help the wounded.
Smith had survived the worst mass shooting on an American military post, a rampage of more than 100 shots that left 13 dead and 30 wounded, including the alleged shooter, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.
It could have been much worse, but for the heroics of Smith and others — like the 19-year-old private who ignored her own wounds, and the diminutive civilian police officer whose gunfire helped take down Hasan.
"Unfortunately over the past eight years, our Army has been no stranger to tragedy," said a somber Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff. "But we are an Army that draws strength from adversity. And hearing the stories of courage and heroism that I heard today makes me proud to be the leader of this great Army."
As a psychiatrist, Hasan, 39, had listened to soldiers' tales of horror. Now, the American-born Muslim was facing imminent deployment overseas. In recent days, Hasan had been saying goodbye to friends. He had given away many of his possessions, including copies of the Quran.
At 2:37 a.m. Thursday and again around 5, Hasan called neighbor Willie Bell. Bell could normally hear Hasan's morning prayers through the thin apartment walls, but Hasan skipped the ritual Thursday.
Bell didn't pick up either time, but Hasan left a message.
"Nice knowing you, old friend," Hasan said. "I'm going to miss you."
At the processing center on the southern edge of the 340-square-mile post, soldiers returning from overseas mingled with colleagues filling out forms and undergoing medical tests in preparation for deployment.
Around 1:30 p.m., witnesses say a man later identified as Hasan jumped up on a desk and shouted the words "Allahu Akbar!" —Arabic for "God is great!" He was armed with two pistols, one a semiautomatic capable of firing up to 20 rounds without reloading.
Packed into cubicles with 5-foot-high dividers, the 300 unarmed soldiers were sitting ducks. Those who weren't hit by direct fire were struck by rounds ricocheting off the desks and tile floor.
When he decided that Hasan wasn't close to being out of ammo, Smith made a dash for the door. He'd made it outside when he heard cries from within.
"I don't want to die."
"This really hurts."
"Help me get out of here."
Smith rushed back inside and found two wounded. He grabbed them by their collars and dragged them outside.
His second time through the door, he ran into the shooter, whose back was to him. Smith turned and fled, bullets whizzing by his head and hitting the walls as he rushed outside.
Next door, at the Howze Theater, Spc. Elliot Valdez was filming a graduation ceremony for soldiers who'd completed correspondence courses. Several proud scholars were posing for a group shot when Valdez heard a pounding at the side door.
The door burst open and the theater filled with shouts of "Medic!" and "Stay in the building!" A combat videographer who returned from a 15-month Iraq tour in January, Valdez ran out into the sunlight.
Crouching as he continued to roll tape, Valdez could see windows broken by fleeing victims. He saw a soldier in his Class A dress uniform with a gunshot in his back. Soldiers in flowing black graduation robes and purple sashes rushed to help.
Pfc. Amber Bahr, 19, of Random Lake, Wis., tore up her blouse and used it as a tourniquet on a wounded comrade. It was only later that she realized she'd been shot in the back, the bullet exiting her abdomen.
In the confusion, Army Reserve Spc. Grant Moxon, 23, lost his cell phone. He borrowed a comrade's phone to send a text to his family in Lodi, Wis.
The message stated simply: "Grant. I was shot in the leg. I'll be OK."
For several hours, authorities feared there were several gunmen. By the end of the day, it was clear Hasan had acted alone, they said.
Marquest Smith says some of the people he helped made it. But he knows others did not.
Afterward, Smith noticed a hole in the heel of his right combat boot. A bullet had entered the boot, but he had somehow escaped injury — at least the physical kind.
After the adrenaline wore off, Smith was overwhelmed by a sense of betrayal, because this assailant who spilled so much blood was a soldier.
"We're supposed to be a family," he said.