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US Navy pilots demand ability to arm themselves on military bases in letter to Congress

Lt.j.g. Alex Orlando before a P8-A Poseidon aircraft on Naval Air Station Jacksonville. (Daniel C. Coxwest/U.S. Navy)
December 16, 2019

U.S. Navy pilots sent a letter to Congress demanding a change in policy to allow them to carry firearms on base.

“This letter serves as a call to action for you … to empower those who support and defend our nation’s interests abroad to be able to support and defend their brothers- and sisters-in-arms at home,” said the letter, which was obtained exclusively by Fox News on Sunday.

“It is reprehensible that a military installation, much less its warfighters based there, be at the mercy of off-base, civilian law enforcement when faced with an immediate threat to their lives,” the letter continued.

The letter, provided by two U.S. Navy instructor pilots at Naval Air Station Pensacola, comes a little more than a week after a Saudi military pilot opened fire in a classroom building on the base, killing three and injuring several more.

In the letter, the authors criticize a 1992 law that they say allowed U.S. military bases “to become ‘soft targets,’” and also rely on security provided by civilian contractors “whose physical fitness requirements and specialized training fall far short of the standard servicemember’s.”

One service member killed in the shooting was Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, who was an Expert Marksman and had served as the Captain of the Naval Academy’s 2018-2019 Rifle Team. Watson was standing watch unarmed the day of the shooting and confronted the suspect.

“ENS Joshua Kaleb Watson was a small-arms instructor and captain of the rifle team at the United States Naval Academy.  Yet when charged with standing the watch, he was equipped with nothing more than a logbook and a pen,” the letter said.

The letter argued that service members “can be entrusted to fly multimillion-dollar aircraft over hostile territory, command companies of infantrymen into battle, or captain ships around the world, all while holding the nation’s top security clearances, but when back home are not trusted to carry a simple pistol in order to protect themselves, their families and their fellow servicemembers.”

Watson’s family has also criticized the military for leaving him unarmed while standing watch, despite his qualifications with a firearm.

“We, as a nation would have entrusted him on a battlefield somewhere with a wide array of Naval Assets, yet he was asked to answer the call of the ‘War on Terror’ at home unprotected,” said his father, Benjamin Watson, in a Facebook post.

“It is not right to ask these young men and women to stand watch but not give them the ability to defend themselves,” Watson’s brother, Adam Watson, told Fox and Friends last week. “If my brother had not had that right stripped from him, this would be a different conversation.”

Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman, told Fox News that the Pentagon was not aware of such a request to carry firearms on base.

“I would point out that both in Pearl Harbor and in Pensacola, that our armed law enforcement on the bases both were able to respond to the shootings in a very rapid manner and engage with and address the shootings,” Hoffman said.