WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - I first met Kim Munley when her father wheeled her into a Washington, DC hotel on January 26, 2010. It was the day before Munley would attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address. She was in a wheelchair, still recovering from injuries suffered nearly three months earlier on a November day in Texas. Those events nearly took Kim Munley's life, and thrust her into an international spotlight.
"I'm so happy that I get this honor, just to sit up there," Munley said that day, referring to sitting next to then-First Lady Michelle Obama during the presidential address. Her father Dennis would also attend the event as a guest. A lot happened to Kim Munley before and after that experience.
Munley grew up in Carolina Beach, spending a lot of time with her older brothers and male cousins. She did everything they did, skateboarding, fishing, hunting, racing motorcycles. An admitted tomboy growing up, Munley shot her first gun at the age of seven, and she developed a desire to seek out law enforcement as a career.
Graduating from Hoggard High School, Munley entered Cape Fear Community College and studied criminal justice. Her first job in law enforcement was as an undercover narcotics officer at UNC Wilmington. That turned into a position as a reserve officer at Wrightsville Beach Police Department. That's where Munley earned the nickname "Mighty Mouse", coined by a fellow officer at WBPD Shaun Appler. Hear Munley talk about how it happened at 16:00 of the podcast.
Kim enlisted in the Army, where she received special training not only in weapons but also in chemical operations. Fort Hood, Texas was her last duty station, and she became a civilian police officer and part of the SWAT team on base. Munley was washing her patrol car on the morning of November 5, 2009, when her life changed. It started with her hearing a radio call of "shots fired".
"It's not alarming to get a 'shots fired' call, especially during the day," Munley said about the Army base at Fort Hood. "Most of the time it was funeral volleys practicing and someone calls it in as shots fired. But, I stopped washing my patrol car, got in and called dispatch saying I was 10-8, in route. I was closer than any other officer on base. On the way is when dispatch said they could hear shots being fired in the background. That's when I knew it was not false alarm."
Munley and Sergeant Mark Todd of the Kileen Police Department responded to the scene. Munley confronted the shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, and shot him several times while also being wounded herself. Sgt. Todd shot Hasan as well, dropping him to the ground and ending his deadly shooting spree. In the end, 13 had died, 32 were injured. Listen to Munley describe the scene in detail, starting at 21:15 of the podcast. It is the most in-depth description of the events she has ever shared with me.
Munley, Sgt. Todd and several others began doing interviews with national media and talk shows in the days following the attack. Munley expands more about the days following the attack, and her recovery, at 36:15 of the podcast.
"The very first interview we did after the shooting was with Oprah," Munley said. "Bless her heart, she was given completely wrong information. I was so medicated, I don't even know how I looked presentable on TV. I don't even remember much about the interview to be honest with you. She'd been given information that I'd been shot in the head. She was given a photo of me with a shotgun firing it, thinking it was from that day on scene, with me having a big bright smile on my face, which wasn't her fault. We were in a tough situation, because we didn't know how much information we could disclose with it being an ongoing case, so we had to be very vague with some of our answers."
It took a while for Munley to recover from her injuries. But the physical recovery pales in comparison to the battle she began on behalf of the those who survived the attack, and the loved ones of those who died. Munley championed for the survivors and victims of the attack to receive combat-related benefits from the United States Army. However, that could not happen since the Department of Defense had classified the incident as "workplace violence" and not a "terrorist attack".
But in 2014, Congress expanded the eligibility for awarding the prestigious Purple Heart by re-defining what should be considered "an attack" by a foreign terrorist organization. That change prompted then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh to approve awarding Purple Hearts to the victims of the Fort Hood attack. The award brings combat-related benefits many of the survivors so desperately needed. Munley talks about the long battle, and the support members of Congress along the way, at 40:45 of the podcast.
"A lot of people say it's just 'an award'," Munley says about the honor. "No, being a recipient of a Purple Heart allows you to get those benefits, as if you overseas and gotten shot. One of the victim's wives made it clear to understand. The war came to them. They were on their way to war, these victims. They weren't over the ocean, fighting it. But they were about to, and the war came to them. There is no difference. The majority of the people out there, in the Purple Heart Association, agreed there is no difference, that they deserved it. Otherwise, it would be just like they were doing PT (physical training) and spraining an ankle. They would treatment for that injury, but they would not get the benefits."
Today Kim Munley is the president of Step Up For Soldiers, a non-profit organization that provides support for education, home modifications, or other essentials needed by disabled members of the military. She describes the organization and its work at 46:25 of the podcast.
"We are the major veterans' organization in the southeast, the biggest one, and it's something that came from the dream of Tom Russell in 2004," Munley said about the organization's creator. "He just started building ramps (for veterans' homes), and it grew and grew. As he got older, he wanted to build a house for a veteran who is going through school, who is married with kids, to promote the stability of marriage and education. That was completed, the Kramer House, in January we had the ribbon cutting. Our next step is to do another house for another veteran who is going through school. Eventually we want to possibly do a community for veterans, even homeless veterans."
Kim Munley talks about other issues during the podcast, including her daughter Jayden's experiences following the Fort Hood attack, and the possibility of someday writing a book about her life. She still consults for federal government, does inspirational talks, and instructs at law enforcement conferences across the country.
You can listen to the entire interview with Kim Munley on the free "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast:
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