After Action Report: How America’s volunteers protected their troops, screwed it up and what we can learn from it

Fat guy guarding recruiting station

In light of a recent attack on a US Military Recruiting station and Reserve Depot that left five servicemen dead, American veterans and civilians have been exercising both word and action. They have been not only demanding the repeal of a policy that forbids service members to carry firearms but guarding the recruiting stations with their own time, manpower and weapons until that policy change is made.

While the idea itself is noble, it has raised as much controversy as it has praise. Just recently, the US Army issued a warning for all recruiters, demanding they treat the armed volunteers as a security threat. The Defense Department, currently reviewing solutions to the lack of armed troops, has asked civilian volunteers to stop guarding the centers altogether, with several National Guard Units relieving the volunteers of their posts in their respective states.

In all honesty, the idea, and to a certain extent the act, was noble. On the day of the shooting, I considered throwing my Israeli bullpup rifle into a tennis racquet case, concealing a handgun, dressing in plain clothes and standing casually (albeit vigilantly) in front of the local recruiting station with my trained German Shepherd, trying to blend in as best a tattooed former paratrooper with a K9 could. Not really making a statement, not looking for attention- just doing what I considered to be my duty towards those who could still serve. The odds of running into danger seemed so insanely low, it just didn’t warrant the open carry of a rifle or wearing of body armor.

Ultimately, when my present duties prevented me from getting enough time to do so, I was relieved to hear that others were taking up the very same cause. Stories of veterans and dutiful civilians volunteering their time and equipment to stand vigil beneath the hot summer sun in defense of their troops was a welcome, heartwarming message that I had been hoping for.

That is, until I saw some of the people guarding the stations.

Look, I’ll be frank here- I am okay with this gesture. I’m okay with small groups doing it, but I am also going to advocate not looking like a soup sandwich when you’re doing it, coming to a consensus for responsible Standard Operating Procedures, strict Rules of Engagement and OCD-grade weapons discipline.

For every ‘professional’ carrying themselves in a clean, sound manner with well-maintained equipment, there are five Bubbas in ‘Meriflage with drum-fed AK pistols, six airsoft/Call of Duty enthusiasts in full battle rattle, three morbidly obese folks wielding antiques, four people in highly polarizing (and unrelated to the issue) political t-shirts and two dudes decked out in the latest ill-fitting camouflage fatigues, fingers tightly gripped around their entry-level AR15s.

The man on the far left can be seen holding his weapon with no regard for the direction his muzzle is facing.
The man on the far left can be seen holding his weapon with no regard for the direction his muzzle is facing.

The consistency of these volunteers is spotty at best, the leadership near-nonexistent, the code of conduct, standards and ROE not even being shown consideration. Negligent discharges have been reported. One recruiting station was evacuated after volunteers identifying themselves as veterans returned the day after being asked to stand down. Ultimately, these volunteers are being asked to leave, being replaced by Guardsmen, Police or no one at all. The situation has drawn mixed reviews among civilians, police and service members, widening the already noticeable rift between all parties concerned.

The worst part? Many of these offenders are in fact veterans. Even those veterans who aren’t displaying such wanton behavior share the blame for failing to police up those who are.

Guarding recruiting station

I am a huge proponent of the Second Amendment, as well as ensuring that our active duty troops get the support that they deserve. Ultimately, I see what people did as the right thing to do; it was just the execution that was found lacking. Very lacking.

So being a former military man, I looked back on this exercise and asked next time, what can we do better?

This exercise proved Americans were willing to sacrifice their time, resources and (if needed) safety to defend our active duty troops assigned the task of recruiting more troops. It proved why the Second Amendment is a powerful measuring stick of freedom to gauge what our fellow first-world nations have lost and why the American Citizenry is in fact the militia defined under US Code, the last line in the defense of our Republic.

Unfortunately, it also showed lack of leadership on the part of America’s most valuable civilian resource: veterans. Where the veteran should have stood as a beacon of leadership for the civilian guards, they were instead allowing less-than favorable behavior to occur, tarnishing both the veteran and gun communities that are essential to American culture.

You see, we as veterans are a symbol, especially in the era of the all-volunteer force. We joined to do a duty no one else wanted, we accepted our lives may be at risk in the execution of said duty and we gave our all, each in our own way. We are bound to this sense of duty for life, bestowing upon ourselves a mark that cannot be removed regardless of our current or past affiliations with the military: the title of “veteran”.
We are leaders in our communities; if not, then we should be. We represent the very best of what America could offer of her children, the guardians of the Republic.

So what did we learn?

Well, for one, we learned that we have a way to go when it comes to banding together in defense of our Republic. We’ve learned that if the “Sheepdog” theory exists, rule #1 should be “don’t scare the sheep”. We learned that quiet professionalism should take precedence over flamboyant sabre-rattling. We learned that our Veteran community should have orchestrated these operations better, given their experience and knowledge regarding what standards of professionalism need to be maintained. We learned that when those standards of professionalism aren’t maintained, accidents and grievances happen, resulting in our volunteers being asked to leave by the very people they came to protect. It takes more than just courage and a sense of duty to conduct an honorable mission. In the words of Vegetius, “the courage of a soldier is heightened by his knowledge of his profession.”

Last, but not least, we learned that Americans are willing to stand up and do the right thing, even if they need a little practice in doing so. While this recent act of goodwill unraveled into something less than desirable, it is something we can certainly learn from, preparing ourselves for the uncertain future. It is something we must learn from, especially as Veteran-Leaders.

The Republic depends on it.

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