More than three weeks after the Pentagon formally requested that armed volunteers stop standing guard outside military installations across the U.S., a small group of local veterans remains posted in front of a military recruiting center in Middletown.
The men say they aren’t budging until they are relieved by armed guards.
“We took an oath to defend and protect, and we will carry on,” the group’s leader Larry Stoneking wrote in a recent Facebook post.
Stoneking, a Marine veteran who fought in Vietnam, even sent a message to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz informing him of the group’s determination.
“We have been asked to stand down by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, SecNav (Secretary of the Navy) and the Pentagon. We are determined to remain on post till we are relieved by armed guards,” he wrote.
About 21 local veterans have taken their weapons and stood watch at the Middletown Armed Forces Recruiting Center on Terhune Drive over the past five weeks in the aftermath of the fatal shootings of military personnel in Chattanooga, Tenn. Similar action was taken by veterans throughout the region and the country because federal law prohibits most military members from carrying their weapons at military installations.
The gesture, while well-intentioned, has caused some frustrations, military officials said.
“While we appreciate the support of these veterans, they are actually making it harder to do our jobs,” said MC1 Phillip James, the spokesman from the Navy’s Recruiting Command in Columbus, which oversees the Middletown office.
Donald Herth, a civilian spokesman for the Army’s Columbus Recruiting Battalion that also oversees the local office, was surprised to learn the veterans were still there. He said “this has been a touchy situation due to what happened in Tennessee.”
“The Army prefers that they were not there and would prefer these patriots would simply report any suspicious activity around the recruiting center,” Herth said. “We have no plan to make them leave, but our stations have been told if they feel threatened to call police.”
Marine veteran John Parise, of Springboro, said a Navy representative told the group on Tuesday that they needed to leave. That message wasn’t well received.
“There are a lot of loyal veterans here, but the government is not stepping up to do what’s right (to protect veterans),” Parise said. “It’s too politically correct, and it’s damn disgusting.”
James, of the Navy’s Recruiting Command, said he was unaware of anyone talking to Stoneking’s group about leaving and that there are no plans to contact the property manager about having police disperse the veterans.
“They have a right of peaceful assembly, and we’re not getting involved in that,” James said.
Two airmen from the Air Force recruiting office stopped Wednesday to thank Stoneking for his service and his presence. One airman told him that her father asked her to pass along his thanks as well.
Another woman who pulled into the strip mall said “God bless” to Stoneking as she walked into one of the neighboring businesses.
Stoneking measured his comments carefully Wednesday, not wanting to “jeopardize our position at this recruiting center.”
“There are a lot of people who want us here, and we’re planning on staying here,” he said. “Other states have offered their National Guard to protect recruiters. Until (Ohio Gov. John) Kasich does something, we’re still here.”