Armed members of an impromptu “Operation Hero Guard” that assembled Monday to protect military recruiters in a Cleburne office extended that service on Wednesday to an Army Career Center in Burleson.
The men, carrying semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, said their volunteer effort is part of a nationwide, grass-roots response to the recent killing of five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The two-group founders began standing guard Monday morning in Cleburne at the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station on Nolan River Road and said they will stay as long as necessary. Their ranks grew to six on Tuesday’s vigil and to a dozen by late Wednesday, including the three-man contingent dispatched to the parking lot of the Wilshire Crossing Shopping Center, 1351 Wilshire Blvd. in Burleson, where there is an Army recruiting office.
Terry Jackson, an Army veteran with 15 years of service, said he was stunned to hear of the July 16 shooting rampage at a military recruiting center in Chattanooga and a nearby Navy Reserve center.
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“That's unacceptable,” Jackson said, recalling his first thought. “It was unacceptable for our soldiers, sailors, our men and women of the military to go over and serve and go into combat, and then to come back here to the homeland and be gunned down on their home duty stations. They were going to work for their families and not coming home.”
Four Marines were killed at the Navy Reserve center and a sailor who was wounded died Saturday.
Military personnel who work on bases and recruiting centers in the U.S. are not allowed to be armed. Since the shootings, Marines have been told to not wear uniforms at recruiting centers, which are often in strip malls. And lawmakers in Washington have pushed for legislation that would allow personnel on military bases to be armed.
Jackson of Rio Vista and Jonathan McCroskey of Joshua said they were among 15 to 20 members of what they called the Johnson County Militia. They started standing guard Monday in front of the recruiting offices. On Tuesday they were joined by Jerry Blakeney of Grandview, Army veteran Dean Damota of Cleburne, and Army veteran Ray Cram of Rio Vista, who said they were not members of a militia.
The men bore their weapons from under small tents in the parking lots of both recruitment sites.
“It’s not any crazy white supremist crap, or overthrow the government,” Jackson said of the Hero Guards. “We’re here to help. That’s what [police] and everybody knows. If there’s an emergency, tornadoes, whatever, we’re here to assist.
“People say Band of Brothers,” Cram said as he looked toward the recruiters’ storefront, which includes all the major branches except the Army. “That applies to them, too. They are all our brothers, and sisters.”
The accused Chattanooga attacker is Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24. Authorities have not been able to determine a motive for the killings.
President Barack Obama, speaking Tuesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh, said the U.S. is doing everything in its power to protect American military members.
The defenders in Cleburne, joined late in the afternoon by 21-year-old National Guardsman Tyler Pinkston, groused that the American flags flying over the White House and U.S. Capitol were not lowered to half staff until Tuesday afternoon, calling the delay “disrespectful” to the families of the shooting victims.
Out side the Cleburne recruiter office, the Hero Guard huddled under a 10-foot by 10-foot, grayish nylon tent. Jackson’s wife hurried to Wal-Mart to buy the tent Monday for shade, as North Texas temperatures climbed into the upper 90s. The men never laid down their arms, and they didn’t dress down for the heat.
At both locations, the defenders turned to wave at motorists honking their support and graciously accepted cases and coolers of bottled water and sports drinks and bags of fast food dropped off throughout the day by supporters.
“I feel touched,” Blakeney said. “It’s a show of appreciation and gratitude.”
That’s exactly what people like Jackie McSwain of Grandview wanted to convey with donated refreshments and kind words.
“My husband is military,” McSwain said as she jumped back into her car after leaving drinks, sunflower seeds and trail mix . “He’s [Army] reserves right now, but he served a tour in Iraq, so I surely appreciate what they’re doing.”
Joel Victory of Victory Investment Strategies handed over a bag of whatever drinks he could round up at his nearby office.
“These gentlemen are up there, completely unarmed, and there are idiots out there,” he said. “Thank God for people like this, who are willing to come out here and protect people.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7186