Washington

Rifle-toting civilians stand guard at Army recruiting office in Spanaway

Two men identified only as Zach, 27, left, and his friend Matt, 34, stand outside the U.S. Army Recruiting Office in Spanaway, Wash., carrying AR-15 rifles and holstered semiautomatic handguns. Zach said he called the office earlier in the morning to ask if it would be all right for them to come out. He said they are there because of the shooting at another recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tenn., that left five service members dead. Deanna Rine, seated behind, said “it is all right with me that they are here posing for pictures with their guns.” Rine was just hanging out in front of the recruiting office.
Two men identified only as Zach, 27, left, and his friend Matt, 34, stand outside the U.S. Army Recruiting Office in Spanaway, Wash., carrying AR-15 rifles and holstered semiautomatic handguns. Zach said he called the office earlier in the morning to ask if it would be all right for them to come out. He said they are there because of the shooting at another recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tenn., that left five service members dead. Deanna Rine, seated behind, said “it is all right with me that they are here posing for pictures with their guns.” Rine was just hanging out in front of the recruiting office. Staff photographer

Matt drives a dump truck, and Zach is a welder. The two Parkland residents say they’re just a couple of patriots who want to protect soldiers.

That’s why both took personal days from work Tuesday to sit in front of the Army recruiting office in Spanaway with AR-15 rifles, ready to defend the men and women who defend the country they love.

“We’re here to show our support and make them safe,” Matt said.

Tuesday was the first day the men, who wouldn’t disclose their last names, stood post in front of the strip mall at Pacific Avenue South and Military Road South.

They say it won’t be the last.

“I’d like to be out here in my free time as much as I can,” Zach said. “This is just something we decided to do today.”

Concerns about the security of U.S. military-recruiting stations have heightened since last week’s attack at a recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by a lone gunman who was later shot to death. Authorities say he fired at a recruiting office, then drove several miles to a Navy and Marine reserve center, where he shot and killed four Marines and fatally wounded a sailor.

Washington state law allows residents to openly carry their legally purchased handguns and long guns in most places without a concealed weapons permit unless the property owner prohibits it.

Matt and Zach said they showed up in the parking lot at 9 a.m. Tuesday. They say nobody had asked them to leave as of early Tuesday afternoon.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department got some calls from people concerned about the guns, but spokesman Ed Troyer said deputies did not respond because no illegal activity was taking place.

Spanaway is not the only place where civilians have decided to be self-appointed security guards. On Monday, a man with a rifle, shotgun and American flag sat in a beach chair outside a recruiting station in Silverdale. He put his firearms in his vehicle after Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies told him he was scaring people.

That wasn’t the case for Matt and Zach. Everyone was very welcoming, they said. Some passersby brought them pizza, soda and energy drinks; others stopped to offer a handshake or a pat on the back.

“We’ve had really positive feedback,” Matt said.

Matt acknowledged that it’s unlikely an attack is imminent in Spanaway, but he said the threat is still there.

Military recruiting centers were already on alert, even before last week’s Chattanooga attack. Recruiters in the Puget Sound region told the News Tribune in March that they were taking extra precautions to protect themselves after a warning from the Defense Department that they could be a target for Islamic militants.

Currently, staff are prohibited from carrying weapons inside recruiting offices.

Tom Conning, advertising and public affairs chief for the Seattle Army recruiting battalion, wouldn’t say whether the armed duo was welcome outside the Spanaway office. He did say the ideal way for civilians to help recruiters is to observe and report suspicious activity.

“We appreciate the support from local communities,” Conning said. “We don’t need them to stand guard.”

On Tuesday, the general tapped to be the next Army chief of staff said it would be appropriate, in some cases, to arm soldiers at recruiting stations. Gen. Mark Milley made the remarks at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said legal issues surrounding the use of the military for domestic law enforcement would first have to be resolved.

In the meantime, Matt and Zach say they will be there, armed and ready.

“If we have the ability to do something, we’re gonna,” Zach said. “We’re not here to gain exposure. We have one purpose – to protect our recruiters.”

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