But it was not to be a joyous day for the graduates or a routine day for Spc. Valdez. By the time Army major Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly had killed 13 and wounded 31 during an afternoon rampage, Valdez had filmed the terrifying aftermath, including footage showing graduates helping the wounded by using their graduation gowns as bandages. He didn't realize until later that one of the injured he saw was the shooter, Major Hasan.
"I've dealt with bullets in Iraq and never got shot, so there was no way I was going to get shot here," says Valdez, who upon hearing reports of gunshots from the nearby processing center grabbed his camera and jumped into action. As people ran away from the gunfire, he ran toward it, capturing the dramatic and tragic scene.
"The scene and the sound wasn't the same as in war, but the chaos was," Valdez, of Fort Sill, Okla., says. "Being so far downrange, I had to take a moment to remember what it was like and to tell myself to stay calm, stay cool."
Police and emergency crews arrived almost instantly, carrying wounded out of the building and attending to them as ambulances arrived. Some yelled at Valdez to stop filming, not realizing he was a member of the base's PAO staff. Valdez, in fact, was also one of the key sources of information for Army brass as they tried to get a handle on what had happened.
The scene of the shooting is a processing center that most soldiers see as an annoying bit of military bureaucracy. "Most soldiers just sit around and joke about being there," he says. The center is usually crowded with people standing in what he called "snake lines."
"This is our home away from war," he says. "This isn't supposed to happen here."
As for Hasan, Valdez has little sympathy for the 39-year-old Army medical psychiatrist's reported agitation over being deployed to a war zone, to fight a war he is said to have criticized.
"Yeah, being deployed means a lot of stress and it's hard, but you volunteered to do it," he says. "It shouldn't be a problem."
It's ironic, he says, that an Army officer charged with helping soldiers deal with wartime stress should decide to try to take the lives of deploying soldiers.
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