The fatal attack on two Tennessee military facilities has raised fears that terrorist attacks on so-called “soft-targets” will continue, and has some calling for arming military personnel at recruiting centers.
“They should have a sidearm there available to defend themselves,” said local security expert Timothy Shaw, a retired FBI agent and former Marine Corps recruiter.
Often these centers are in very public locations — like the Chattanooga strip mall where Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, on Thursday opened fire on a Marine recruitment office before driving to a Navy-Marine training center and shooting four Marines to death. Police killed Abdulazeez in a gunfight.
Military recruiting centers in Ohio need to put more security measures in place, said Clark County commissioner Rick Lohnes, who retired in 2008 as the commander of the Springfield Air National Guard Base.
Until that happens, recruiters — who are well-trained in using firearms — should carry weapons, he said.
“I don’t care what the local rules are, they’re sitting ducks,” Lohnes said. “I’d arm every one of them.”
Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, said military recruiting stations should not be soft targets.
“They should be hard targets,” Cornwell said. “It seems to be clear that the military and law enforcement personnel have been declared targets.”
Recruiters, he said, should be armed, and the stations should at least have surveillance cameras, like those around sheriffs’ offices and county jails.
At the U.S. Army recruiting office in Lebanon, Marine veteran Charles Gerhardt said he supports arming soldiers living as civilians after returning from active duty.
“These men have deep backgrounds in how to operate in dangerous situations,” Gerhardt said.
State Sen. Joe Uecker, R-Miami Twp., has been working on a bill for the past few years that would allow any active duty military member — in uniform or not — to carry a concealed weapon in Ohio. Uecker expects to introduce the bill next week. The proposal would require military personnel to carry documentation to serve as a concealed carry permit, and would apply even if they are under the age limit of 21 in the state’s concealed carry law.
“This is something that should be allowed nationally,” Uecker said. “If you’ve got a uniform on, you’ve now become a target. They should be allow to carry a firearm.”
The Associated Press reported that Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, said that security at military recruiting and reserve centers would be reviewed, but that it was too early to say whether the facilities should have security guards or other increased protection. He told reporters that arming troops in those offices could cause more problems than it might solve.
His comments came as Navy officials confirmed a separate incident Friday outside Atlanta, where a recruiter accidentally shot himself in the leg with his personal .45-caliber pistol while discussing the Tennessee shootings with one of his recruits. Officials said he showed a sailor the unloaded gun, then reloaded it and inadvertently discharged it as he was putting it back in his holster.
Recruiters are trained in anti-terrorism measures and work closely with law enforcement, said Sgt. First Class Christopher Pauer, who works at the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Middletown.
“That way we have our eyes and ears open, try to stay vigilent as far as when we notice anything out of the ordinary,” Pauer said. “That’s really all we can do.”
He said there is nothing “out of the ordinary” as far as new security in the wake of Thursday’s shooting. As the “face” of the military, recruiters must remain open and welcoming, he said.
“We can’t really withdraw much,” Pauer said. “We put on the uniform and we accept a little bit of extra risk.”
Threat level low
The Ohio National Guard has not increased security measures in response to the Tennessee incident, according to Maj. Nicole Ashcroft, public affairs officer.
While many installations are fenced and have security guards, other facilities are not guarded and those serving there receive additional training from security forces, Ashcroft said.
“Although there are no increases to security measures at this time, we remain vigilant, and we are responding appropriately to secure the safety of our military members and Ohioans,” Ashcroft said.
The guard’s current threat level is Alpha, the second-lowest of five levels. It denotes “possible threat of terrorist activity.”
“We are asking that they remain vigilant, that they follow the increased security measures that we have,” Ashcroft said. “And we are providing them guidance and additional information as is needed to secure their safety.”
Ashcroft called the Chattanooga shootings “a very tragic incident.”
“My prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to the families and the friends of our fallen brothers in arms and everyone who was involved in this tragic incident,” she said.
Retired Montgomery County sheriff and former security consultant David Vore said there are limits to what law enforcement can do to prevent attacks. It is impossible “to place a cop at every church, every school, recruiting office and every government building.”
“I don’t think there is an easy answer or easy solution, (there is) no stopping people who are hellbent on fulfilling some sick thought that they have that leads them to kill innocent people,” said Vore, now a Clay Township trustee.
But, said Vore, well-trained and armed citizens “are a great neutralizer.”
“Since the church shooting (in South Carolina) I’ve talked to several folks from various churches who say they carry guns to church now,” Vore said.
Shaw said it takes more than a concealed carry class to properly prepare someone for the responsibility of carrying a gun.
“I don’t think having an armed citizenry is where we go,” said Shaw, who is senior vice president and director of operations at the Advanced Technical Intelligence Center in Beavercreek. “It’s not something you take lightly.”
Lone wolf fears
Abdulazeez’s motives are not known, but as authorities investigate his alleged online comments regarding Islam and jihad and a trip he took to Jordan, it raises fears that this will turn out to be another “lone wolf” attack by a sympathizer of the terror group ISIS.
“I think this shows sort of the evil brilliance of terrorism, which is to show that the state can’t protect its people, even its soldiers,” said Donna Schlagheck, Wright State University professor emerita who is the past chairperson of the political science department.
She said terrorists are phenomenally focused on staying ahead and finding new vulnerabilities — be it a marathon race, a church, or a recruiting center. And very often the clues lie online in the world of social media where the “lone wolf” finds his co-conspirators giving him “leadership, inspiration and comrades in arms.”
“We need cyber agents finding these sites,” she said.
Glen Duerr, assistant professor of international studies at Cedarville University, said there needs to be close coordination at all levels of government and across borders, sharing information about possible terrorists. And he said “soft targets” should have a regular police presence so they can be a deterrent and also react if an attack occurs.
Duerr said winning the battle against domestic terrorism will take patience — just as it did in Northern Ireland and Spain — and it has to be done while protecting civil liberties.
“I don’t think a police state is necessary,” Duerr said.
Shaw said a lot is being done by law enforcement to prevent attacks, but even with vigilance there will always be a danger.
“This is something where I don’t know what we could have done to stop this short of spying and watching everyone,” Shaw said. “We are not going to do that as a country. We don’t believe in that.”
Staff writers John Bedell, Michael Pittman and Michael Cooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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