Chattanooga Retired Marines Call for Recruiters to be Armed

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team continue to investigate the shooting at the Armed Forces Career Center/National Guard Recruitment Office on July 18, 2015. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team continue to investigate the shooting at the Armed Forces Career Center/National Guard Recruitment Office on July 18, 2015. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Retired Gunnery Sgt. Ben Stone spent four years working in the Lee Highway recruiting center where a shooter opened fire on July 16, and when he looks back at the attack, he sees a painful missed opportunity.

On that day, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez pulled up to the recruiting center in a convertible and opened fire from the car, sending the recruiters inside running for cover. Abdulazeez paused midway through the attack to reload -- a pause that allowed most of the Marines inside to escape out a back door with only minor injuries.

But Stone thinks that pause could have been the end of the attack -- if the Marines inside had been armed.

"In the time lapse of him reloading, dropping a magazine, those Marines are skilled enough to have returned fire," he said. "And if not then, once he went to leave, those Marines were skilled enough to neutralize him outside before he drove to the Marine center and did what he did there."

Abdulazeez left the recruiting center and drove across town to the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway, where he killed four Marines and fatally wounded a U.S. Navy specialist.

The attack set off a nationwide debate about whether U.S. service members should be armed at military locations on U.S. soil -- most personnel are prohibited from carrying weapons at such facilities -- and prompted the Marine Corps Recruiting Command to double down on its position that recruiters will not be armed.

"There is no plan to arm recruiting personnel at this time," the Marine Corps Recruiting Command public affairs office wrote in a statement Wednesday. "Our continued trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work. Arming Marine recruiters would interfere with recruiter interaction with the public in many places, such as on school campuses and in the homes of prospective applicants."

Instead of arming recruiters, MCRC officials vowed to add other safety measures like security cameras, remote-locking doors, or ballistic protection from movable shields and desk partitions. Officials said installing bulletproof glass in every storefront center would be cost-prohibitive.

In the weeks since that September announcement, some former Marines both in Chattanooga and across the United States have rallied against the decision, arguing that the Marine Corps isn't doing enough to prevent future bloodshed.

In Cullman, Ala., a 95-year-old World War II veteran paid $33,000 out of pocket to install bulletproof glass at his local recruiting office in September, according to the Marine Corps Times.

And in Chattanooga, Wayne Rich, a retired Marine Corps colonel, created and printed 200 "Marine Lives Matter, Arm Our Recruiters," bumper stickers. He's selling them at-cost, $3 each or 2 for $5, to anyone who asks.

"Failure to protect our troops is a dereliction of duty," Rich said Tuesday, parked in front of the recruiting center with a handful of bumper stickers. He handed one to Keith Wheatley, a former Marine who is also the property manager of the Lee Highway strip mall where the shooting happened.

Wheatley plans to put the sticker on his vehicle and said he doesn't think his other tenants in the strip mall would be worried if the recruiters carried weapons or kept a gun inside the office.

"These tenants never said a word when all of this was going on," he said. "Their businesses hurt seriously when all this was taking place for several weeks, and they never complained."

On the day of the attack, some service members at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve did try to stop Abdulazeez with their personal firearms, but were unsuccessful.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim White, who fired at Abdulazeez as the attacker ran into the building, spoke at a Red Cross event Wednesday but offered no new detail into what happened that day.

The fact that White was armed but still unable to stop the attack doesn't dissuade the Marines who are rallying to arm recruiters. They say White, forced to use a personal weapon, still didn't have the firepower he needed to stop the attack.

"You don't bring a knife to a gunfight," said retired Capt. Chad Shannon.

He balks at the plan to equip offices with shields, locks and other defensive measures.

"We are Marines," he said. "We don't sit back and hope to God that something stops a bullet. We attack anything that gets in our way."

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