Armed citizens guard Wilmington military recruitment center

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Marc, left, and James Jernigan stand guard with their weapons. Photos by Hannah Leyva.

A few local citizens armed with assault rifles and pistols have been guarding an armed forces career center in Wilmington in response to the deadly shooting at a similar center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last week when four Marines and one Navy sailor were killed.

Military recruiters, who usually work in offices in shopping complexes, malls and other areas readily accessible to the public, are not allowed to carry weapons. According to a 1992 Department of Defense directive, “The authorization to carry firearms shall be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or DoD assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried.

“Evaluation of the necessity to carry a firearm shall be made considering the expectation weighed against the possible consequences of accidental or indiscriminate use of firearms,” it continued.

“We still have friends that are active duty. I still have friends that are recruiters,” said 30-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Marc, who preferred not to give his last name. “I’m just here to make sure the Wilmington pot doesn’t get stirred.

“This is supposed to be the safest job in the military,” Marc continued, noting that in order to be in these positions, these men and women have served for several years.

James Jernigan, a 50-year-old civilian with a background in law enforcement, was also standing guard on Thursday afternoon.

“They go and fight overseas and can’t protect themselves here,” Jernigan said.  “It’s ridiculous that they get killed on their home turf. The military should be able to carry (weapons).”

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Marc, left, and James Jernigan stand guard outside the Armed Forces Career Center at 3715 Patriot Way in Wilmington.

Marc and Jernigan did not know each other prior to standing guard outside the recruitment center at 3715 Patriot Way, near the intersection where College Road and 17th St. meet. They emphasized they are not part of any militant group. North Carolina’s laws allow law-abiding citizens to walk around with their firearms providing they have the proper permits. The two men, along with two others (including another former Marine), have their permits, but that hasn’t stopped some people from driving by them fearfully.

“I’m not a scary dude,” said Marc, a stay-at-home dad with small children. “I’m a big mushball, but I’ll be damned if someone comes into my country and steps on us. Not while I’m breathing.”

“I’m not out here to hurt anybody,” Jernigan, also a father, added. “I just want to make sure no one in there gets hurt.”

Though some people were intimated by the sight of men with big guns in a public area, most passersby thanked the men for what they were doing. Some brought them cold water or offered to buy them lunch, while others asked to take pictures with them. Marc and Jernigan appreciated the gestures, but ultimately felt they were just doing their duty.

“This is my way of supporting (members of the military) and thanking them and making sure they get home safe,” said Jernigan.

“I’m not here for recgonition,” said Marc. “I’m here to do what I’m supposed to do.”

The small group of dedicated men first came out on Wednesday morning and plan to take turns standing watch outside the recruiting center “as long as it takes and however long it takes to arm our military personnel in the offices,” they said.

“It keeps happening. They have no excuse for it,” Jernigan said, citing shootings in recent years at other military installations such as Fort Hood in Texas and the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. “We’ll be here til they give them the authorization to protect themselves. That’s not the way to treat the military.”