Before we step even one inch into this topic, I’d like to offer my condolences to the victims in the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. My mother (who is a kind and wonderful woman) sent me an email last night because members of my family were hurt. And the United States Navy is my family. I bleed Navy Blue when a sailor is wounded.
Now that the disclaimer is done, and I’ve plugged the whole subscription thing we can get down to the meat of this thing: It is criminally stupid that our military are not allowed to carry weapons on duty. Moreover, they ought to be required to carry a weapon, as they are targets of terrorists and the unhinged. It is craven to do anything else. And this was as true under President Ronald Reagan as it is today under President Barack Obama.
The problem is that if you have guns you have to train your people how to carry them in an office setting. Well, Duh. And that costs money. Money that could be spent on other things. General officers don’t like being responsible for budget items that recur and don’t show big ticket items. They don’t like accidents. If you have enough people carrying weapons all the time there will be accidents. Promise. So, to avoid accidents you take away the guns. Our military bases are the biggest gun-free zones in the nation. And that’s how you get a massacre like Monday’s at the Washington Navy Yard.
A little history is in order here, so indulge me.
I thought the United States Air Force took security more seriously than any other branch during my years of active duty. They had real people, with real weapons, with real ammunition, and would shoot you dead if you trifled with them. Round in the chamber. Do not approach the fence under penalty of death. Orders had been given and they’d execute them (and me) if boundaries were violated.
I admired that quite a bit. I knew where I stood with those guys (it was all guys at the time) and that was just fine.
A very close second were the United States Marines who guarded the compound where I worked when I arrived in Spain. Never a smile, no chit-chat. Show me the pass or get your – fill in the blank. This was reinforced by the machine gun nests on the roof of our building and the sneaky little band of trained killers that lurked outside the perimeter in a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that was somewhere on base. Maybe nearby, maybe in the barracks. But I always had the feeling that they were under orders to wait for orders. Ready to do the job, hampered by authority. No round in the chamber, but nearby.
The Army was a distant third. It actually amused me to see the Military Police from Fort Ord cruise through the Defense Language Institute. They gave off a very distinct vibe – “We don’t care now, we didn’t care yesterday, and we won’t care tomorrow. We have donuts to eat.” I say that with only the snark that a former police officer can muster. Lax, slack, blind, and all sorts of other words pegged them into their little car which they never left. This is not to say that there weren’t some pretty good Army security troops out and about. I’m sure that the guys in Germany were deadly serious about their jobs. Soviets within mortar range can do that for your attention span. Al Stewart said, “It sharpens your perceptions when your back’s against the wall.” However, I know that live ammo wasn’t issued to most of them most of the time. One notch below the Marines in readiness. This was not the fault of the troops, but a political decision from on high.
A grindingly distant last place (because I never dealt with the Coast Guard they escape any scrutiny) was my beloved Navy. We were afraid of guns. Basic training included exactly 0 rounds fired by your genial host. My Company Commander knew I was able to handle a weapon and sent me to run errands on qualification day. That was a six hour romp at the range where recruits fired .22 pistols and were screamed at by the instructors. My Chief figured I’d be better off taking the morning and lounging at the exchange. Thank you, Chief – I had a lovely time. It was simply familiarization so that they wouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot the first time anyone handed them a pistol. In the 1984-1989 period the only time I saw sailors with live weapons loaded with ammunition it verified for me that nuclear weapons were somewhere in the area. That was the only reason for a regularly carried/displayed weapon. We did guard other things other places with weapons, but the average sailor during that period didn’t know squat about weapons. Ship’s reaction forces did carry weapons, but they had to muster and get them from a locker – and only in emergencies.
I fully realize that I’m an old fool and that the weapons training is much better now than it was back then. I was one of those rare birds that actually qualified expert with a pistol. Not many even could try – ammo was short and very few ranges available for the average sailor to qualify. Today’s sailors (and other branches) get good training if they are going to be at risk. But the political cowardice runs deep. Guards were the go to solution on Monday. They did their jobs bravely by all accounts. But what if every third or fourth sailor had to carry a weapon as part of the duty section? Would that have cut down on the number of deaths? I’d hope so.
Until the brass realizes that we have an obligation to let our troops protect themselves on base and at work, we make them all sitting ducks. The logic (run down above) always said that the threat was minimal and we could avoid trouble if we just didn’t issue weapons. That lead to stupid decisions during my time in Spain. The Marines were pulled off guard duty on our compound. We went from well trained and armed people to – (drum-roll, please) unarmed sailors with a long stick that had a wheeled mirror on it. Yes, indeed, from well armed to target in five minutes. Our compound was now guarded by untrained cryptologists who were told to check under vehicles for bombs.
I always wondered what we were supposed to do if we saw a bomb under a vehicle? Point the stick at the driver and demand they get out of the car or face a scratched paint job? My input on the topic was not welcomed with much humor. I distinctly remember being told to shut up and stand the watch or be written up. I lucked out – I went to sea instead. Pretty awful when vanishing for an indeterminate amount of time on a submarine made you feel safer than standing at the gate with the wheeled mirror stick.
We’re back to the wheeled mirror stick. Give our troops a fighting chance. Arm them today. They all signed up for this gig – let them have a fighting chance of seeing the next sunrise. Problems with that? Maybe – but if you can’t trust them with a weapon, why are they in the miltary?
That is all. Except to remind you to say a prayer for the survivors and the families of everyone in Washington. After all, they’re my family.