NASHVILLE -- The U.S. Defense Department wants armed volunteers who are showing up across the country to guard military recruiting centers following the July 16 shooting rampage at two facilities in Chattanooga to stop, citing potential "security risks."
In a statement issued Friday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the department takes "the safety of our service members, our DoD civilians, and the families who support them very seriously."
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Cook said, "is currently reviewing recommendations from the services for making our installations and facilities safer - including our recruiting stations."
Across Tennessee and parts of the rest of the country, heavily armed civilians, many of them veterans themselves, have been standing patrol at some U.S. military recruiting centers following the Chattanooga attacks.
Authorities say 24-year-old Mohammad Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez first attacked a recruiting center, wounding a Chattanooga police officer, and then a Navy and Marine training center where he killed four U.S. Marines and a Navy petty officer and wounded another service member. Abdulazeez was killed in a confrontation with Chattanooga police.
"While we greatly appreciate the outpouring of support for our recruiters from the American public, we ask that individuals not stand guard at recruiting offices as it could adversely impact our mission, and potentially create unintended security risks," Cook said. "We continue to partner with and rely on first responders for the safety of the communities where our service members live and work."
The New York Times reported an unidentified Defense Department official saying Friday's request for volunteers to go home was prompted by concerns over an "accidental weapons discharge" from a civilian weapon outside a recruiting station on Thursday in Lancaster, Ohio."
"We felt it was prudent to issue this statement in order to help potentially prevent other incidents like this from occurring," The Times quoted the official saying. "The absolute last thing we want is to see any other loss of life."
The Columbus Dispatch reported one man had been charged with a misdemeanor after he accidentally fired his AR-15 rifle outside a suburban recruiting center. The private owner of the shopping center issued a statement saying that "for the safety of tenants, customers and construction personnel working in the immediate vicinity of the Military Recruiting Center, it would be best to request the removal of the armed individuals."
There have been no reported incidents in Tennessee. The civilian guards began showing up because of Pentagon policies restricting the ability of service members to go armed at federal facilities.
In Cleveland on Thursday, state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and his son Nathan, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, came armed and stood guard outside a Cleveland military recruiting center.
Bell said Saturday he did so at his son's request.
"I don't know if I would do it again, it was important to do it the other day," Bell said. "My son had asked me to."
But, the lawmaker added, "I do think it was important for the symbolism of just doing it and letting the military personnel know that we support them. Is it important for me to go out there and do it again, I don't know."
As for the Pentagon's request, Bell said "would it have a bearing if the right circumstances rose? Probably not."
However, Bell said, he remains hopeful that the Pentagon will change policies to make it easier for military personnel to protect themselves from such attacks in the future.
And, he added, he fully supports the legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., and other U.S. House members from Tennessee which would require the Pentagon to develop a new policy requiring the designation of properly trained soldiers carrying military-issue firearms to go armed.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.