Today is Thursday, August 24, 2017

'Protecting those who protect us'

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Vietnam veteran Earl Richardson speaks with a passer-by outside the Armed Forces Career Center Wednesday in Mt. Juliet, as he and other veterans stood watch. Richardson served in the United States Army. DALLUS WHITFIELD / The Wilson Post
Veterans Christopher Lewis, Earl Richardson, Paul Grigsby, Gene Campbell and Don Mahaney, civilian Matt Del Rossi, of Nashville, and former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Oakley McKinney stand guard outside Mt. Juliet's Armed Forces Career Center. DALLUS WHITFIELD / The Wilson Post

The military veterans and concerned citizens who stood guard at the Armed Forces Center in Mt. Juliet today want their message to be heard, loud and clear: We are here to protect those who protect us.

Just last week Mohamad Abdulazeez went on a shooting spree in the scenic town of Chattanooga, Tennessee - targeting United States military. His first shots were fired from his vehicle into an armed forces recruitment center, similar to the one located in Wilson County. The lives of four marines, Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, and one sailor, Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith.

Some folks have argued there would have been a different outcome if the recruitment office allowed their personnel to be armed. Since 1993, weapons have been prohibited at recruiting centers.

"There is a law that was signed into effect when Bill Clinton was president to disarm military on federal installations," explained volunteer Christopher Lewis, who is retired from the Tennessee National Guard. "This center is located in a strip mall, but it is still leased by the Federal Government - so that law applies here."

(In 1992, when George H.W. Bush was president, the Department of Defense issued a directive related to firearms for military personnel, which replaced an earlier one. According to politifact.com, the Army released a regulation that implanted the directive in March 1993, two months after Clinton took office.)

Lewis is a former recruiter and said he would like to see the law changed. "I've heard talk of top generals reviewing which stations need to be armed, and I disagree with that. Picking and choosing is like playing God and deciding who gets to live. I believe we shouldn't arm one or two - we should arm them all," he stated. "You never know who is going to come into your office."

Lewis was joined in standing post by veterans Earl Richardson, Paul Grigsby, Gene Campbell and Don Mahaney, civilian Matt Del Rossi, of Nashville, and former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Oakley McKinney.

"They've gotta have somebody here to help them and make it a fair fight if trouble comes," said Richardson, a Vietnam Veteran, adding that he heard about the opportunity to help his brothers in the military on Facebook. "I don't think anyone is coordinating this. It just kind of happened."

Lebanon native Grigsby, who spent four-and-a-half years in the Marine Corps, said he was encouraged by his former criminal justice teacher Mahaney, to join the lineup on Wednesday. "We are down here to make a statement. Things need to change. I've got friends working in this office."

Media outlets have called Abdualeez a "homegrown, violent extremist" who is not currently believed to be part of an organized terror group - but Lewis noted that if an isolated attack could happen in Chattanooga, he believed it could happen anywhere.

"Chattanooga is a relatively safe area," he said. "I think it is time to acknowledge that there is a terrorism problem in this nation."

Grigsby echoed Lewis' thoughts, stating that prior to Thursday's shooting he "didn't think anybody would want to mess with Tennessee" because of the high number of concealed carry permits.

"Terrorists wait until Americans are arguing with each other about a flag to strike," he said. "It is strategy."

Campbell, a Vietnam veteran, told Grigsby the world is "getting crazier by the day."

"When I was a kid you wouldn't have imagined something like this," he said. "I never thought something like this would happen at our backdoor."

In the event that he had to defend the Armed Forces Career Center, Campbell said that he would gladly take a bullet for any of them and planned to return again to stand guard. He is retired and has time to donate.

"Look around," he said. "We've got all these young guys and a guy who was never in the armed forces who have come out to make this statement. The guys in Chattanooga who gave their lives were young. I'm a realist. I've lived my life."

The group was well-received by shoppers who passed by. Richardson said Jimmy John's Sandwiches of Mt. Juliet delivered lunch to them, and Korean War Veteran Willie Allen stopped by to shake their hands.

Several volunteers plan to return to the Armed Forces Career Center throughout the week, such as Mahaney, who put it this way: "Until the Obama Administration will arm them - our mission will not be complete."

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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#publicsafety, armed forces, military, Mt. Juliet, veterans, Wilson County
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