Troops and Military Families Call for Change After El Paso, Dayton Shootings

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Twin sisters Jessica Torres, left, and Danielle Novoa hold an American flag during the Hope Border Institute prayer vigil for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex,  Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)
Twin sisters Jessica Torres, left, and Danielle Novoa hold an American flag during the Hope Border Institute prayer vigil for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)

An Army master sergeant in the Middle East said he spent Saturday worried about his family back in Texas after a gunman killed 21 people after opening fire in a crowded shopping center just minutes from Fort Bliss.

"I am deployed in a combat zone right now and yesterday I was concerned for my family back in El Paso!" Alex Licea tweeted on Sunday. "I volunteered to serve our nation and it sometimes sends me to dangerous places. My family shouldn't be the ones who feel like they are in a combat zone."

Licea is a master sergeant and the public affairs noncommissioned officer in charge at 1st Armored Division, according to his LinkedIn profile. His unit headquarters deployed to Afghanistan this summer.

Hours after the shooting, George Gonzalez took to Facebook to let his friends know his brother and family, who are currently based in El Paso, were safe.

"I used to freak out when my little brother was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan," Gonzalez wrote. "Now I have to worry about El Paso!!!"

Cerra Adams shared a similar sentiment. Her son arrived at Fort Bliss the night before the shooting, she said.

"He's way too close to this," she tweeted. "We need to end these mass shootings. ... Vote for representatives that want strict gun control!"

Another Army mom described feeling like her heart had "dropped to my stomach" when she realized there was a shooting in El Paso, where her daughter arrived on Wednesday ahead of a deployment to the Middle East.

"By the grace of God her unit was restricted to the base today!" she said. "... That's all I need is for my soldier daughter to be shot at a mall in El Paso!"

About 13 hours after the El Paso shooting, another gunman more than 1,500 miles away in Dayton, Ohio, shot and killed nine and injured more than two dozen in a popular downtown district. At least four U.S. troops were caught up in the Dayton and El Paso attacks.

Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley Jr. rounded up kids in the Cielo Vista Mall where the El Paso shooting was happening to bring them to safety. And three airmen based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio were injured when evacuating the area during the Dayton shooting.

Former Senior Airman Jimmy Santos said on Sunday that he reached out to friends he'd served with in Afghanistan who now live in El Paso and Dayton.

"I don't understand why I have to make phone calls to friends in TWO SEPARATE CITIES to check on them following a [mass shooting]," he wrote. "And while making these calls I actually forgot I did this only a few days ago for my friends in #Monterey and #Gilroy. I forgot, that less than a week ago, I called someone to see if they were still alive."

Santos was referencing the July 28 shooting at a California garlic festival in which a shooter cut through a fence to bypass metal detectors and other security. Three people -- including two children -- were killed and a dozen others injured.

Michael Husband, a former Navy officer who now runs a TV and film production company in Texas, called on his Senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to reach across the aisle to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

In the past eight years, he said he and his family have been in close proximity to three mass shootings: the 2013 Washington Navy Yard attack, the 2017 shooting in Virginia at a practice for a congressional baseball game, and now the shooting in El Paso.

"I've served our country for over 20 years, deployed to Afghanistan and around the world and find myself frustrated that I need to worry about my family's safety in the US," he said. "I love, support, and protect the constitution but don't think the founding fathers had assault weapons or high capacity magazines in mind when they wrote the 2nd amendment.

"Please go back to Congress this month, work across party lines, and ban this capability," Husband added.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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