NASHVILLE -- Adj. Gen. Max Haston told state lawmakers Monday he won't be moving Tennessee National Guard recruiters in Chattanooga back to their storefront operations until new security protections are in place to deter future attacks such as the one on July 16.
"I'm not going to put our guys back until I get Mylar put up and some bollards at our facilities," Haston said, referring to the Mylar coating used to protect plateglass windows from shattering from gunfire and the metal posts or planters used to prevent vehicle assaults on buildings.
Haston appeared before a specially called House State Government Committee hearing to discuss steps the Military Department has taken in the wake of last month's bloody shooting rampage that left five U.S. military men dead at the Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway.
Earlier, shooter Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked a U.S. military recruiting center in a Lee Highway strip mall, firing at the center's windows. The Tennessee National Guard's own recruiting center was right next door.
Abdulazeez was gunned down later at a reserve center on Amnicola Highway by Chattanooga police.
Since then, all seven Tennessee Guard recruiting operations have been relocated into armories. Moreover, Haston last week also issued an order allowing National Guard members with state-issued handgun carry permits to go armed at armories.
Because recruiting centers are under leases negotiated by the Department of Defense, only select Tennessee service members who have specific small arms training will be allowed to carry weapons there as well as at Air National Guard facilities on U.S. military airport installations in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis.
Installing the latest security upgrades to National Guard armories, the seven commercial recruiting centers and other state military facilities would cost upward of $18.2 million, Haston told the panel. The bulk of that — $16.6 million — would go toward installing high-security fencing and gates, which would be used at armories.
The cost assessment for upgrading storefront recruiting centers would come to $130,520. That includes sophisticated video surveillance systems, the shatterproof Mylar film, camera systems, barriers and bollards. To upgrade all facilities' nonfence needs would come to $1.48 million.
House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, told Haston during the hearing that lawmakers would find the money for the $1.48 million.
Alluding to Haston's earlier comments about a 2013 incident at a Millington, Tenn., Guard recruiting center where an angry recruiter shot three colleagues, Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, voiced some concerns about the arming of Guard members due to mental illness.
"Yes, that is a grave concern of mine," Haston said. "However, we have weighed the costs and we feel the balance of justice is more to the other than it is having somebody that's mentally deranged."
But he noted that when he spoke with commanders and asked whether everyone should be armed, "to a person [they] said absolutely not." Haston, however, said the state will be relying on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation handgun-carry background checks as well as annual health checkups of Guard members, which include a mental evaluation.
The adjutant general said what keeps him up at night isn't al-Qaida but the disenfranchised or "lost souls who have no loyalty to anything and who are easily swayed" by social media postings by ISIS and "want to make a name" for themselves.
"That's what scares me," Haston said, noting a cousin of his living in Chattanooga told him her daughter had gone to school with Abdulazeez, described by the FBI as a "homegrown violent extremist."
"He was just as normal as normal can be except he had another name," Haston said his cousin's daughter said regarding Abdulazeez.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.