Free-Fire Zones: Our Military Installations Are Defenseless
LTG Mark Milley, Fort Hood Commanding General, Addresses the Media Shortly After Shooting
LTG Mark Milley, Fort Hood Commanding General, Addresses the Media Shortly After Shooting

The Problem:

As I watch the shooting situation at Fort Hood unfold today I am struck by the many misunderstandings closely held by the media and the pundits.  Americans hate situations where there is no clear, single solution, and for these sorts of shootings there is no easy solution, so they tend to jump to conclusions and offer up unworkable fixes and then marvel that nobody ever thought about that before.  This recent tragedy is no different.

And let me state for the record that I have no idea what the motivations of this particular murder were, but whether motivated by jealousy or by Jihad he’s a low-life cowardly freakin’ murder and nothing else.

I don’t provide any specific solution here.  This is only me attempting to provide some insight for those with no military experience into life on a major Army installation like Fort Hood.  By the way my perspective is that of a recently retired Army Senior Non-Commissioned Officer with 40 years of service, so I’ve used the terms “Soldier” and “Military Police”, but the information I provide here applies to all branches of U.S. military service.

Military bases like Fort Hood are perfect targets for so-called “home grown terrorists” who are often “lone wolf” perpetrators.  Despite their outward appearance, despite the warning signs and the armed guards at the gate, and bomb-sniffing working dogs, once inside beyond all of that our large military installations are “soft targets”, typically with fewer Military Police per capita than your average American city.  Additionally many large Army installations have vast open training areas adjacent to the area where Soldiers and their families live, work, shop and go to school.  These training areas are frequently protected only by a single chain-link fence and are often not patrolled at all.  On Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington for example it is not uncommon for local criminals to sneak into the South Training Area to set up Meth labs!  If criminals can do that what is to stop a single dedicated terrorist – or a small group of terrorists – from bringing weapons and explosives on to a post with the intent to murder dozens of Soldiers?

Soldiers are targets both on and off post, for a wide range of social animosity.  They’re targets for extremists on the Left who may see them as “robotic executioners” guilty of prosecuting an “illegal war” and responsible for the deaths of “millions of innocent women and children.”  They’re also targets for extremists on the Right who may see them as “storm troopers” and “government stooges” who will soon be going door-to-door confiscating personal firearms and herding Americans into “re-education camps.”  As if that weren’t bad enough the rest of the mentally ill portion of America may see our Soldiers as members of an “alien invasion army” bent on the destruction of Mankind!  Of course there’s still the regular run-of-the-mill sorts of criminals also prey on us just as surely as they do the rest of America should one of us chance to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In a very real sense our military installations at home are little more than “free fire zones” to anyone who has the intent to murder, and the intelligence to circumvent the woefully insufficient boundary protections most bases have.

Unlike most Americans our military personnel are not allowed to carry concealed weapons on their persons at any time on post, whether they are on duty or not.  Soldiers are allowed to keep their weapons in their homes on post but only once they are registered with the Military Police.  We are also allowed to transport our personal weapons to and from legal activities such as a civilian shooting range off post, but they must remain unloaded and in our personal vehicles at all times when crossing the post on our way to the gate.

We should probably immediately hire additional federal Police at all installations, double perimeter patrols, start searching every car that enters each post, and install metal detectors at major facilities such as dining facilities, troop billets, headquarters, and of course all schools, the post exchange and the commissary.  In the face of almost certain downsizing of our military there will simply not be enough money to do any of that.


Background Checks – It’s Complicated:

In a perfect world the members of our military would all be fully vetted before they put on the uniform, and an attempt is made to filter out outright criminals.  That basic, initial effort is called a National Agency Check (or “NAC”) which is completed over the course of a couple of days, and is nothing more than a query sent to major national agencies, such as the FBI and US Marshall Service, to determine if a prospective recruit has any existing criminal record.  For the majority of our military that’s as much of a background check as they get.

For all Officers, Warrant Officers, Senior NCOs and some lower enlisted folks in certain occupational specialties such as Intelligence Analyst there is a requirement for an actual “security clearance” – SECRET, for example, or TOP SECRET.  The individual background screening for these security clearances for our military is expensive and time-consuming so not everyone gets that sort of look.  A TOP SECRET clearance runs about $85,000 and takes about six months to complete – SECRET background check not much less.

Even with this additional screening there’s another major problem.  As long as the current Presidential administration – and honestly previous administrations as well – refuse to officially and openly acknowledge that we are engaged in a very real war with fundamentalist Jihadist Islam the aforementioned background record checks and security clearance investigations will rarely look into Jihadist relevant associations for fear of being accused of religious profiling.  This is exactly what happened in the case of Nidal Hassan, who murdered 13 and wounded 32 during a previous shooting also on Fort Hood on the 5th of November, 2009.  Hassan’s superiors had seen definite Jihadist terrorist tendencies in his behavior but ignored them for fear of retribution from Army senior commanders.

So the truth is that the background investigations for most Army personnel only weed out the most blatant and obvious criminals, and intentionally turn a blind eye to most suspicious Jihadist associations and behavior.


Possible Solutions:

 #1 – Arm Our Soldiers:

I have heard pundits ask just today why our Soldiers are not all armed while on duty at our posts across the United States on a regular basis.

When our Soldiers return from a deployment into a war zone they deserve to “stand-down” and spend time in a low stress environment – at least one in which they should not need to carry a weapon to defend themselves… not while on their home base!  Our home station facilities are intended to be ‘safe havens’ for our returning Warriors and a place to rejoin with their families, not armed camps.

It is simply impractical to issue sidearms for our Soldiers to carry on duty as a mandatory part of their gear.  Handling the accountability for these weapons and ammunition would be a monumental task in itself, but can you imagine the chaos in a situation like we have seen again at Fort Hood?

Here’s how that scenario plays out…

Shots fired and every Soldier in the area is wearing a sidearm.  Suddenly 65 Soldiers working in the area draw their sidearms, rack a round into the chamber and take the nearest cover, scanning for a target.

“Who’s shooting?”

“The guy over there in ACUs!” – guess what genius, EVERYONE IS WEARING ACUs!

“OK, the guy over there in ACUs with the gun!” – really?  We all have guns.

“OK, the guy over there in the ACUs with a gun, that’s shooting!” – again, still, really?  Once shots are fired we’re probably ALL going to be shooting… worst case scenario – at EACH OTHER!

Then the Military Police arrive, and every Soldier in the area has a drawn weapon and is ready to shoot anything that moves!

Look, I have 40 years of military service, mostly in Army Infantry units with many years stationed on large Army bases like Fort Benning and Fort Lewis; trust me, this is exactly how an active shooter scenario would go down if we were to require all personnel to wear sidearms!

#2 – Station Armed Guards at Key Points:

We could station marksmen at key points on each installation, at places where Soldiers and/or family members tend to regularly congregate.  But exactly who would perform that duty… Military Police?  They’re already in short supply.  If those guards are drawn from the line Infantry units we’re back to the question “who vets all of those Soldiers?”  Remember a full background check runs about $85k!

Since that sort of “overwatch” guard force would be very visible wouldn’t an active shooter simply plan for that and look for an area that was insufficiently covered?

#3 – Allow Our Soldiers to Carry Concealed Weapons:

It’s pretty difficult to envision a policy that would allow concealed carry of personal weapons although I have to admit that this is probably the only viable solution.  Even so, during morning physical training sessions (usually from about 6:00 am to 7:00 am) when troops are packed into nice tight formations and not paying any attention to anything but their exercise routine, they’re wearing their workout clothing so it’s rather impractical to think they’d also be wearing a concealed weapon.



In closing as I stated at the beginning of this article is that there is no simple, easy, convenient answer to the problem of how to protect our Soldiers while they are going about their business on their home stations where they should feel perfectly safe.  However I think that acknowledging that – at least in part – we are facing Muslim terrorists would be a good start.

Each of these sorts of incidents only serves to further the idea that our military is a collection of troubled misfits with a violent streak who may explode in violence at any time.  The unemployment rate among Servicemen leaving the service is much higher than other demographics… so is the suicide rate.  We really don’t need to widen the gulf between those Americans who enjoy their freedom without thinking about where it comes from, and those Americans who actually provide that freedom.

I suspect that we will soon see renewed calls from those from the extreme Left of the anti-gun movement to require military and former military to prove they we are mentally sound before we are approved for concealed carry.

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