October 5th, 2010
10:40 AM ET

Fort Hood survivor fighting war in Afghanistan

After completing a seven day mission, a bomb-hunting patrol rolls into Kandahar air base in a cloud of billowing dust.

Among the road-weary American troops peeling off body armor and sweaty helmets is a 21-year-old soldier from New Jersey named Alan Carroll.

He hops out of the turret of an armored vehicle carrying a heavy 50-caliber machine gun, and then begins loading flak jackets and rucksacks into the back of an open truck.

The young man moves with speed, strength and enthusiasm, something you wouldn’t expect from someone who survived four bullet wounds in a single day less than a year ago.

“I’m trying this year not to go to hospitals,” Spc. Carroll says, while cleaning his guns back at his tent later in the day.

Carroll wasn't wounded on the battlefields of Afghanistan. He survived the November 5 shooting rampage at the U.S. military base in Fort Hood, Texas.

A lone gunman opened fire in a processing center, where troops were getting medical clearance before deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Alan Carroll returned to combat in Afghanistan three months after he was shot at Fort Hood last year

“At first I really thought it was a joke,” Carroll recalls. “Then I got hit here,” he says, pointing at his left arm, “and I was like, 'Holy crap! What the hell was that?' I still couldn’t believe it was actual live rounds.”

The room filled with smoke. Carroll says he tried to carry Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, a friend and fellow soldier who had been shot in the neck, out to safety.

“That’s when he shot me in the back,” Carroll says. “I was holding my back and trying not to scream and playing dead at the same time.”

Several agonizing moments later, Carroll made another attempt to carry his friend out of the blood-soaked room. That is when he came face-to-face with the suspected shooter, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hassan.

“Me and him just looked at each other,” Carroll says. “And the only thing I could think is ... ‘Dammit, I’m dead,’” Carroll says. “And he fired off two shots, and I heard one go past my ear and the other one hit me in the leg. Dropped me back down on the floor.”

When the smoke finally cleared, 13 people were dead, including Nemelka and two other soldiers from Carroll’s company. Carroll was one of at least 20 who were wounded.

Later, as he recovered in the hospital, friends and family say Carroll’s first priority was Afghanistan.

“His first question was, ‘Is this going to stop me from deployment?’” says Sgt. 1st Class Gerald “Woody” Wilson, one of the commanders of Carroll’s platoon.

“My mom’s sitting there and begging me to take [medical discharge], my brother’s begging me to take it,” Carroll recalls. “I said I’m not taking medical discharge. I’m deploying.”

Three months later, Carroll arrived in Afghanistan along with the rest of his unit with a clean bill of health.

“He did physical therapy,” Wilson says. “He was worried about staying behind.”

Carroll’s mother, Teresa Scholte, describes her son growing up as an “adrenaline junkie” with a “bull-headed” determination to succeed.

“When he was in school he was short and very thin,” says Scholte, who works as a receptionist in New Jersey. “That is what led him to take on this personality of ‘nobody’s going to mess with me and tell me what to do.’”

Today, the 20th Engineering Battalion operates in southern Afghanistan hunting for roadside bombs, the deadliest threat to U.S. troops in this country.

According to the commander’s statistics, since February 2, the battalion has had a 66 percent success rate in clearing the bombs. Slow-moving convoys of heavily armored vehicles have successfully discovered and defused 209 improvised explosive devices, but they have also been hit by no less then 129 roadside bombs. In eight months, 13 combat engineers have been killed by Taliban ambushes and explosive booby traps.

Photos of three soldiers killed in the November 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting decorate the entrance of their company headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Route clearance is dangerous work. And for the first six months of the tour, Carroll has been at the very front driving a Husky: the one-man, bomb-sniffing armored vehicle that one sergeant nick-named “the Coffin.”

“It’s the worst job,” Wilson says. “One, you’re by yourself. Two, you’re in the lead. And three, you’re usually the one who gets hit first. You’ve gotta be brave to drive the Husky.”

All but one of the vehicles in Wilson’s platoon have struck IEDs, including Carroll’s Husky.

“I had one hit underneath my truck. But it really wasn't that significant. Still scared the crap outta me,” Carroll says. He emerged from the explosion unscathed.

But last August, tragedy struck Carroll’s platoon when an insurgent fired a single round from a recoilless rifle at the turret of Wilson’s vehicle.

The attack killed the gunner, Spc Alexis Maldenado. Today, members of Maldenado’s company wear an engraved bracelet with their slain comrade’s name on it.

“It was probably the worst day of my life, the day he passed away,” Carroll says.

Meanwhile, the memory of the Fort Hood shooting is never far away. The portraits of three soldiers killed at Fort Hood hang in the entrance of Carroll’s company headquarters.

Soldiers from the 20th Engineering Battalion have received hours of counseling and therapy since the Fort Hood shooting. Their officers say they keep a close eye on the troops in the wake of more recent casualties.

But the true test of the combat engineers' emotional and mental health will come after their tour is finished, warns Lt. David Judson, one of the officers in the company. That's when they'll be back in the United States without the support of their fellow comrades-in-arms.

Like many of his fellow soldiers, Carroll was in 7th grade on the day the planes struck the World Trade Center. Nine years ago, he says he was waiting for the school bus when he learned about the September 11 terror attacks.

A lot has changed since then. Carroll is still relatively short, carrying weapons that sometimes seem almost as tall as he is. But he also has the bulging muscles of a man who spends long hours in the gym. And he has the enduring respect of his colleagues and superiors, some of whom have nicknamed him “National Treasure.”

“I wish I had more Carrolls,” says Wilson, Carroll's platoon sergeant.

Teresa Scholte, however, is worried about her son’s long term recovery from the Fort Hood shootings.

“That is weighing on me more then him being over there in Afghanistan,” she said in a telephone interview with CNN. “I feel like he’s more protected in Afghanistan because of the armor he has.”

“The only time it gets to me is when I’m alone and it's dark outside,” says Carroll.

“I get nightmares,” he adds. “But I’m used to it by now … I wake up, look around, see all my friends here and say ‘Nevermind, it's not real, go back to sleep.'”

After their seven-day mission, Carroll and two other soldiers laugh and joke about girls, as they scarf down pizza, much like other American men in their early twenties.

But the trio is navigating the sprawling military city at Kandahar Air Field, dressed in combat fatigues, with machine guns slung over their shoulders.

Barely old enough to drink alcohol legally, these young soldiers are already veterans of battles both at home and abroad.

They have the physical and mental scars to prove it.

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Filed under: Troops
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Joe Williams

    You are braver than most men your age. Stay safe.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Old Man Clark

      Or does he just have a taste for killing? Anyway,he's over there fighting for MIC in this country and helping right-wing politicians get elected to office.Too much warmongering going on either way and it should stop!

      October 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
      • RezPause

        You're right. We should pull NATO troops out of Afghanistan. This will create a vacuum that will pull in more extremists looking to train up to be glorious homicide bombers and terrorists. When the mountains are nice and full of these idiots we just fly a few B1B's over there and turn the entire country into a giant glass parking lot. No more war mongering, not more needless deaths of NATO troops AND no more terrorists in Afghanistan. Problems solved times 3 !!

        What, this sounds ridiculous? Of course it does, but so does all of the negative and snarky BS on this page!

        October 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. J

    HOOAH!!!

    October 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TCM

    "....A lone gunman...." There goes CNN again, pandering to the fringe and trying to be PC. The fact is the "gunman," was radical, Muslim extremist....

    October 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • RezPause

      Exactly.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • RezPause

      And you really believe this?

      October 6, 2010 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. Katie

    Amazing! Thank you very much for your bravery and service.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ...---...

    OK...I'm thinking this means that there's no escape route...once you are in, you're in...no matter what. These people are WAY TOO YOUNG to be in wars. Get them out of there! First of all, men were not born to be soldiers. They are human, with emotions. Yes, they cry. No, they are NOT disposable. This is dumb. Let's get these kids out of there. NO MORE WARS!!! Use all of that money to figure out how to get us off of oil. We're smarter than this.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • boyz to men

      My brother and all his male friends only wanted to play "war", "cops and robbers", "cowboys and indians" and generally sneak around in cammo with water pistols while growing up. When he was 19, he enlisted in the Reserves along with his university (all male) chums. I think boys are indeed born to be soldiers and rapidly find out what that means after completing basic training. The armed forces generally turns boys into functional adults and if some of them get hurt along the way after informed consent, so be it. My brother finally got his head out of his azz after his training and we're all better off. Way better than joining a gang and sneaking around killing people over drugs, etc.. Oh, and there's that peace mission benefit too that also goes along with unfortunate civilian casualties. Nothing is perfect but we keep working until it comes closer.

      October 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • DontBHateN

      There has been war since the beginning of time!
      There were wars in the heavens between spiritual beings; there are wars on the earth, not only between human being but animals, insect, etc; there are wars in the sea and under the earth.
      Hello! This is not some new concept.
      There is the Army of the Lord just waiting, as we speak:
      “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” Revelation 19:11-14

      October 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
      • The other guy over there

        Well quoted...doesnt that verse just send chills down your spine...makes me feel glorious for the fact that one day we might be so lucky to be in that army. The army of heaven. The army of God...now that deserves a HOOORAH

        October 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DontBHateN

    May the Lord Bless him and bring him and the rest of the Soldiers safely back home to their families!!

    October 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. joleen murphy cahill

    This article and video is about Spc Alan Carroll and what the 20th Engineering Unit is doing in Afghanistan- let's make it about that and not about politics and personal sound offs or your soap box. The entire unit deserves a great deal of respect. My husband, Mike Cahill, was killed in the Ft Hood Shooting and all of the wounded, and all of the families need a great deal of support. Find a way to support the soldiers (USO, pkgs, phone cards, and many more) and support them when they get home. Alan and all his comrades are doing a terrific job – they don't need your B-sh–. thank you.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. uhuhreally

    OUTSTANDING, we have a bunch of dirty terrorist supporters playing armchair warfare thinking they know what is best for the world. When a country full of people proves that they can't control itself and rather export their evil terroristic ways to the rest of the world, they need to be invaded and rebuilt. AND so everyone understands, this is a NATO led operation, not just the United States. Of I forgot, terrorist and terrorist supporters are ignorant and make up things to make themselves feel better to support their own warped opinions.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MotoJB

    Good luck...hope you come home from that hell-hole safely. What a ridiculously messed up region of the world, with a mission that is clouded by misjudgment, contradiction and outright lies/deceit. It's not WWII anymore. Our motivations are no longer justly substantiated. We're now fighting a war that is in reality, being fought in the hearts of every human being on this planet. The real war will never be won in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. spartacus

    Sorry..I had an "I'm sparacus" moment with the Dindy Sri Lanka. IEDS..are the number one killer in Afghanistan and Iraq..always will be. The U.S. doesn't understand guerrilla warfare...and they will never learn it.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jenchillada

    How do roadside bombs in Afganistan affect the USA when 50% of the jobs posted on monster require me to be able to speak fluently in spanish? If you can answer that.. you aren't reading this.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ratkartz

      you must be reading only the adverts that you are qualified for

      October 5, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • bilingual

        Ratty, that would include being a physician, nurse, paramedic, law enforcement officer, police detective and anyone else dealing with the public. Those jobs have pretty steep qualifications and bilingualism or better is just one of them. Everyone in my discipline is required to speak and write English and they come from all over the globe to do and publish science in the U.S.. Qualifications are steep.

        October 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dwight

    He's not very smart.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lee

    The shootings happened November 5th, which was less than a year ago.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cp

    Maritta – You are the only one here that makes any sense. Spc. Carroll stay safe and come home. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your bravery and your commitment. You are a hero. I hope once you are back on US soil you can get on with your life. You deserve to have a happy and fulfilling life. Teresa Scholte I feel your pain. I will pray for you both daily.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Travis

      Will you cut the right-wing drivel??? It gets awfully old! This obnoxious war is both unnecessary and useless!

      October 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • BUBBA--ALABAMA STYLE!!!

        Thank you,Travis. That is one of the most sensible comments I've seen yet.

        October 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dindy Sri lanka

    DID THE RUSSIANS ALSO STAYED NINE YEARS IN AFGHANISTAN?OF CAUSE NO BODY WANT TO BE IN A HELL FOR ALONG TIME.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • dindy Sri lanka

      The Russians wised up and got out of there just like we need to do but won't because of the right-wing thugs in Washington.Too much money is being made out of this obscene war!!!

      October 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
      • Kerry

        Why are CNN allowing different people to blog here with the same name.

        October 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  16. dindy Sri lanka

    WE SALUTE YOU SIR AND THIS IS ME DINDY. PLEASE ....YOU PAKISTAN 360 DREAMERS ..DO NOT STEP ON US. WE SRI LANKANS HATE TERRORISTS AND UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE LIKE YOU. MAY GOD BE WITH BRAVE SOLDIERS.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frankly Speaking...

      Oh the Sri Lankans!.. the innovators of suicide bombings, a courtesy of LTTE...y dont you tackle your problems before advising pakistan or anyone else

      October 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
      • Kerry

        Do you know what an ignorant ass you are portraying yourself to be there are two sides in a civil war, it helps to know which is which.

        October 5, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |