FORT HOOD SHOOTINGS Medic's heroic response helped save fellow soldiers' lives Death toll may been higher if not for medic, commander says.
By Tim Eaton AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 KILLEEN — Army Spc. Francisco De la Serna doesn't think he's a hero, but the president does — and so do the people who have served with him. President Barack Obama mentioned De la Serna at Tuesday's memorial at Fort Hood and recognized him for saving fellow soldiers' lives last week in the aftermath of the shootings at the post that left 13 people dead and more than two dozen others wounded. His company commander, Capt. Brian Miles, has nominated De la Serna, 23, for the Army's highest award given for noncombat heroism, the Soldier's Medal. "I don't know how many people would have died if he were not there," Miles said. "But the death toll would have been a whole lot higher." De la Serna didn't want to go into detail about what he saw or what he did at the site of shooting — a combination of modesty and a desire not to relive the horrors of the day. Miles, who has heard De la Serna recount the events of that day a number of times, offered this account of the medic's actions: Last Thursday, De la Serna was fulfilling one of the mundane duties of a medic: handing out medical records at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, part of a post-deployment health assessment of his battalion, which returned from Iraq at the beginning of June. De la Serna, who is from St. Marys, Kan., had been sitting outside the processing center on a box of records when the unmistakable sound of shots rang out from inside the building. He quickly found cover behind some trees about 200 feet away as bystanders scattered. From the tree line, De la Serna saw wounded people pouring out of the processing center. He then retrieved his medical bag, which he always carries with him in his black 2009 Honda Civic SI, just in case. "He was out of harm's way," Miles, 30, said. "He was out of danger, and he went right back in there." De la Serna admitted that he was scared. "I'm not going to say I wasn't tempted to run, because I was," he said. But something took over. "We're trained to react a certain way," he said "And, thankfully, I was able to react the right way." Miles said the first person De la Serna treated at the scene had suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The bullet had gone through and was protruding from the back of the victim's leg. De la Serna took the bullet out, dressed the leg and took the man to cover. Then he went back. About the same time, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, a civilian police officer at the post, arrived at the scene. She and the gunman exchanged fire. The next thing De la Serna remembers was tending to Munley. She was bleeding heavily. A bullet had struck her femoral artery. Someone had attempted to use a belt as a tourniquet on her leg. It wasn't working very well. De la Serna pulled a combat application tourniquet from his bag. He was able to stop the bleeding and instructed the people helping him to administer an IV he also had with him. Then, De la Serna moved on to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan had been shot in the chest. A bullet had pierced the front of his body and gone right through. De la Serna used what's known as an Asherman chest seal — a valve designed to let air and blood escape from chest wounds — on Hasan's front side and an occlusive dressing on his back to seal the wound. Hasan didn't respond to De la Serna's questions. He was cold to the touch. After stabilizing the person who would be accused in the shootings, De la Serna continued to hand out the contents of his medical bag to other medics. Then, a soldier with a wound on his neck emerged. Other people had tried to help, but the victim was losing a lot of blood. That's when De la Serna reached into his bag and grabbed his combat gauze, which is often used in Iraq. It helped. Then, De la Serna took a spine board from a nearby ambulance. He rode with the soldier to nearby Darnall Army Medical Center and kept pressure on the wound. When he arrived, he saw a doctor from his battalion, Capt. Andre Haynes. Haynes said De la Serna was covered in blood. He took De la Serna away from the carnage and cleaned him up. "He's a hero to me, whether he gets the medal or not," Haynes, 29, said. "He's an inspiration to all of us." De la Serna still rejects the label. "You think of hero, and certain images come to your head. You think of somebody extraordinary," De la Serna said. "I really don't see myself as something extraordinary." De la Serna said the shootings still haunt him. Things are "a little rough right now," he said. But at least now he can rest, he said. "I couldn't sleep until I found about that all the people that I treated made it through," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org; 445-3631