- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Gov. Robert Bentley’s order Monday allowing Alabama National Guard members to be armed while working at recruiting stations meets desires expressed by local veterans in the wake of this month’s deadly Chattanooga attacks.

But Bentley’s decision will apply only to the Alabama Guard, leaving recruiters in Decatur for the regular Army, Marines and Navy unarmed for now.

Yasamie August, a Bentley spokeswoman, said the governor met with state National Guard leaders Monday and approved “arming guardsmen involved in state active duty as well as the four National Guard recruiting locations.”

She said other details of the changes for Alabama Guard security were classified and would not be provided.

In the July 16 Chattanooga attacks, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez fired shots at recruiting offices, including one for the National Guard, at a strip mall before driving to a Navy and Marine Reserve center where four Marines were killed and a Navy sailor mortally wounded. The fatal shootings have ignited discussion of whether recruiters should be armed.

“I feel like if you are able to fight and die for your country you should be able to protect it to its fullest,” Vietnam veteran Wayne Dunkin, of Decatur, said Monday. “Our own military needs to be armed.”

Dunkin said access to arms for security reasons should apply at least while on duty.

Operations at Decatur’s Sixth Avenue Southeast recruiting stations appeared to be following normal routine late last week. Each of the Marines, Navy, and Army recruiting stations had one or two applicants in the office.

“As of now, we are not allowed to carry weapons,” Marines Gunnery Sgt. Isaac Ishak said.

Ishak has worked as a Marine Corps recruiter in Decatur for a year and a half, but he has been in recruiting for 4 1/2 years. He was in the Marines for 12 years before that.

He said that after the attack, “The command is doing a fantastic job of force protection measures. I think they’ve done a great job of accountability.”

According to The Associated Press, firearms generally are prohibited at military recruitment centers.

The U.S. armed forces have not yet responded to the attack with any visible direct changes in gun control policy, but the Defense Department is awaiting recommendations on security from each branch of the services.

“We will continue to work with local law enforcement,” Marine Corps spokesman Sgt. Michael Iams said last week.

Decatur police spokesman Lt. John Crouch said he couldn’t comment on whether there have been changes in security arrangements for the local recruiting offices since the Chattanooga attacks, because police departments are not authorized to discuss such matters.

Next door to the Sixth Avenue armed forces recruiting stations, ALFA Insurance employee Brandie Hatfield said she has been aware of police patrolling the parking lot in front of the recruiting stations.

“We feel very safe,” she said. “We are in good hands.”

Another Decatur veteran, Roger Groves, who served five deployments to Iraq and Kuwait, said he also favors arming military members at recruiting stations.

“As a two-war veteran, Vietnam (era) and Iraq, it is my opinion that we have been attacked on home soil. … I feel strongly that these military personnel should be armed to defend themselves, their families and our country.”

Groves is a 40-year Army retired veteran who ended his career in 2006.

Governors in at least a half-dozen other states, including Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana, have ordered guardsmen to be armed in the aftermath of the Chattanooga attack.

And the Tennessee National Guard last week temporarily repositioned its soldiers in storefront recruiting locations to local National Guard armories.

The Alabama National Guard had been preparing to carry out whatever Bentley ordered.

Lt. Col. Shannon Hancock, Alabama National Guard public affairs officer, said last week, “The Alabama National Guard is preparing to do what the governor told us to — develop and implement a plan that will allow guardsmen to be armed and safely protect themselves and Alabama citizens from any source of danger. We will make that plan in the safest, most secure and responsible manner possible.”

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(c)2015 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

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