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Soldiering on after rampage

Post Falls man had months of physical, mental therapy after Fort Hood shootings

Pfc. George Stratton III, of Post Falls, got his first tattoo a couple of months ago.

Just below a fading gunshot wound on Stratton’s left shoulder, in decorative writing, is this inscription: “5NOV2009.”

That’s the day Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of carrying out the worst shooting rampage at a U.S. military base, at the Fort Hood, Texas, Army post. Thirteen people were killed. Stratton, who was shot once, was among the 32 wounded.

Stratton said his tattoo is his remembrance of the day.

“Sometimes they ask, ‘Why’d you get a tattoo to remember that? Why would you want to remember it?’ ” he said. “I’m never going to forget it, so it’s just my memorial. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Stratton, who turned 19 Tuesday and is home in Post Falls on a two-week leave, saw two friends die that day and, in January, he watched his former unit depart for Afghanistan without him. Doctors decided that his shattered humerus bone would heal better without surgery because the bone fragments were still in the proper position. He returned to Fort Hood about a month after being shot.

After five months of physical therapy and a month of counseling, he decided he had healed enough and quit both types of therapy. He had almost full use of his arm and going to so many counseling appointments was a burden on the rest of his unit, he said. Some people suspected him of “shamming,” or faking appointments to dodge work.

“I was just like, then I won’t go,” he said. “If you think I’m shamming, I’ll just stay here. I’ll skip all my counseling and stay in the motor pool and work.”

Stratton is now scheduled to depart for Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December, about a year later than originally planned. He’ll be part of a supply unit, delivering fuel, ammunition and other necessities to units outside the forward operating base.

“I’m ready for it,” Stratton said. “I had to mentally recuperate from that shooting, but (deployment) gave me a good focus. I take it more seriously than I used to. I take everything more seriously.”

Stratton said he could have used his injury as a way out of the Army, but wanted to finish his four-year commitment. He has been following Hasan’s legal proceedings and plans to testify against him if given the chance.

“Oct. 4 is when it all starts. I will be going to see his trials. I’m going to testify against him, I know that,” said Stratton, who’d like to see Hasan sent to a federal penitentiary, where he believes the accused killer would be killed by other inmates.

Hasan has been in custody since shortly after the shootings. He was paralyzed after being shot by police and is being held in a jail housing military inmates, according to news reports. The Oct. 4 hearing in a military courtroom is similar to a grand jury proceeding in which witness testimony will help determine whether the case goes to trial.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.

Despite the shootings, Stratton said the Army had made him a better person and he feels it’s a “privilege and an honor” to serve his country in wartime.

His father said the Army has turned his son into a man, but he’s concerned about him serving in a country populated with people who look like the man who shot him. George Stratton Jr. said he fears that could trigger flashbacks.

Physically, his father said, his son seems OK.

“Mentally, you just don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to know until he’s battle-tested in Afghanistan. I don’t want to have that flash back to him and have him make bad decisions because of emotions.”

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