Why Increased Base Security Is a Mistake


If you think the most recent mass shooting on Fort Hood means that we really ought to tighten up physical security on military bases, I'm betting you haven't spent much time on one lately.

With four more people, including the gunman, dead in another mass shooting on Hood, I’ve been listening to a stream of proclamations coming out of the civilian media.

Will the military become a leader on gun control?

We need to make it harder to bring weapons on base!

Base security must be tightened!!!

Although these people may be well meaning, it sounds to me like they have no idea what a military base is like.  They want to make sure that a  place  that is surrounded by gates and guards and seems like it should be safer than the outside world, is actually a place where no harm can ever, ever happen.

So let's make military bases even more secure, shall we?  Let's add check points! Or more thorough car searches! Or metal detectors as you enter the Commissary!

Interesting thoughts.  If a lack of security on bases was really the problem, then tightening security might be the answer.

But that isn't the problem, is it? In the military community we know the problem. We live with the problem. We see it in the suicide statistics  --  that an estimated 22 military veterans a day commit suicide.

We can look at the recent shootings on military bases and see that the problem is not a problem with security.  The problem is often one of mental health. The violent outbursts and bizarre behavior of Navy Yard Shooter Aaron Alexis  (a veteran) were allegedly known to neighbors and  employers.  Fort Hood shooter Spc. Ivan Lopez has been described as having a " self-diagnosed"  traumatic brain injury (TBI) although he was never in combat during his time in Iraq.

In one way, I can understand why people say security needs to go up.  I can see why they would think military bases would be the safest place on earth, the ultimate gated community full of families safe from violence.

But that is not the purpose of security on military bases. The security measures are there to protect the training and military assets on the base. That they make might my home and grocery shopping more secure is an added side-effect -- not the primary goal.

Perhaps people are reaching for the increased security on bases because it is an easily grasped straw that offends no one.  If we point to problems with mental health as causes of these shootings, then perhaps the unintended outcome will be a prejudice against hiring veterans. Instead of fearing that their employees will be  "going postal," perhaps employers will start worrying that veterans  will go "all Fort Hood."

That's truly frightening. And unfair. And all too likely.

Yet in our care not to damage the reputation and employability of all veterans, perhaps we are missing a chance to talk about how difficult it is to solve the problems of mental health.

As an Army wife,  I do know about the struggle after war. I know what it’s like to watch a service member refuse to get help and then self-destruct. I know that the war within can be hidden and that if a warfighter doesn’t want help no one may know that he needs it.

My fear is that we will focus on the politically correct idea that the incidents like the mass shootings at Ft. Hood and the Navy Yard can be solved by beefing up security.  New technology will be installed.  We will all learn some new, convoluted security practice that will be just about as effective as security measures at airports.

My fear is that we will divert funds and attention and innovations that could help our veterans and all Americans who suffer from problems with their mental health. We miss a chance to develop better measures that will identify dangerous people before they commit crimes against the innocent.

I don’t have the answers to all the questions. I don’t know how to make sure mentally unsound people don’t access to weapons or the ability to harm themselves or others. I don’t know how to save the world.

But I'm pretty sure that if you want to solve a problem you have to identify the true causes of the problem and not go for the easiest answers within reach.

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