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Adjutant general upset with TN National Guard misconduct

Adjutant General Terry Haston summoned all Tennessee National Guard recruiters to a closed-door meeting this week and declared “my tolerance level is zero” for the misconduct reported by WSMV-TV of Nashville.

The station has reported on alleged drunken driving by guardsmen, on guardsmen having sex with prostitutes while on an overseas mission and on a case where a top recruiter found was by investigators to have given his prescription pills to the wife of a guardsman with whom he was having an affair.

From the report on Tuesday’s meeting and the “harsh lecture” delivered by Haston and top staff members:

While the meeting was held behind closed doors, the I-Team obtained audio of what was said inside.

“I don’t know how to say it other than this: any instances of impropriety from 15 October on – I will be [expletive] ruthless about enforcing,” Lt. Col. Andrew Grubb said.

Sgt. Major Terry Scott addressed the recruiters about the I-Team’s investigation that showed dash-cam video of two recruiters accused of driving a recruit in a truck hauling a horse trailer while drunk.

“There are some things I don’t like. When all this TV show – we’re doing this – and I saw the two drunks on TV – and knew they were national guardsmen – it embarrassed me as an NCO. And embarrassed me for the Tennessee National Guard,” Scott said.

Haston said while he supported the recruiters, he was also frustrated.

“I cannot tolerate any more of this behavior, and you all know exactly what I’m talking about,” Haston said. “My tolerance level is zero. … More than half my behavior problems in the Tennessee National Guard comes from my recruiting force.”

Haston and his staff are also being criticized by recruiters who have come to the I-Team, angry that some of the men featured in the investigations were still allowed to advance through the ranks.

…“I’m not going to tolerate you dragging my organization down that I love,” Haston said in the meeting.

Recruiters who are critical of Haston are calling for a congressional investigation into the men featured in the investigations and how they were allowed to stay in the guard.

Guardsmen with guns get civil immunity, free lawyers

Tennessee National Guard members with state handgun-carry permits, who were authorized last year to bring their firearms into state military facilities, will have both civil immunity and legal representation under a bill that passed the state Senate on Monday in a 32-0 vote, according to the Times-Free Press.

Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, said the issue “was brought to our attention after the terrorist attacks in Chattanooga that killed five of our service members.”

Tennessee Adj. Gen. Max Haston last year changed longstanding policy that prohibited National Guard members from carrying their personal firearms at state facilities.

The move came after 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked a U.S. military recruiting station on Lee Highway and then went on to attack the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway, where he shot and killed or mortally wounded five Marine and Navy reservists.

“What [Haston] could not do and what he brought to our attention is that he could not extend any civil immunity in the event of another terrorist attack or if there was any attack on our members that they needed to defend themselves or others,” Briggs told colleagues. “What this bill does, it extends civil immunity both for personal and property damage to our service members.”

And, said Briggs, a retired U.S. Army colonel, “because this [legal defense] could result in financial ruin of our services members if there’s ever litigation brought against them for their actions we provide legal counsel to those members also.”

Note: It’s SB1760, awaiting a vote in the House Civil Justice Committee.

Bill grants immunity to Guardsmen shooting at terrorists

News release via Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE — State Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) said today he is introducing legislation to provide immunity and personal liability protection for Tennessee National Guard members involved in protecting themselves or others in a terrorist attack.

Following the terrorist attack in Chattanooga resulting in the death of five military service members, Major General Max Haston, Tennessee Adjutant General, authorized the carrying of personal firearms on state military facilities by Tennessee National Guard members with valid handgun carry permits. State law, however, does not provide immunity or personal liability protection in the event of damage or injury sustained in defense of the service member or others during a terrorist attack.

“Our Tennessee National Guardsmen have become targets of terrorists as demonstrated by the tragic events in Chattanooga,” said Briggs, a retired Army Colonel with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The intent of this bill is to provide the service member legal cover in defending him or herself and others during a terrorist attack. I believe my fellow Tennesseans and state legislators will agree this protection is necessary for our Guardsmen.”

Senator Briggs is developing the bill in consultation with Haston and other law enforcement officials. The bill will be filed for consideration during the 2016 General Assembly Session which is scheduled to reconvene in January.

“The attack in Chattanooga reminds us of the constant threat, on and off the battlefield, facing our brave men and women in uniform,” added Briggs. “This legislation will strengthen current security measures implemented by the Adjutant General to help protect them.”

State senators fret about radical Islamists

Senate Republicans fretted Tuesday about radical Islamists, political correctness and whether Tennessee National Guard officials are being too cautious with their new gun policy following the July 16 slaying of five servicemen in Chattanooga, reports the Times-Free Press.

“We do have an enemy and the enemy is radical Islam and they have declared war on our military,” said Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.

Bowling’s comments came during a joint hearing by the State Government Committee and Transportation and Safety Committee on Gov. Bill Haslam’s move to allow Guard members with state handgun permits to carry at armories and other facilities following the attack.

Senators heard from Tennessee Adj. Gen. Max Haston on his steps to allow Guard members with state-issued handgun permits to carry personal weapons at state facilities. The new policy also permits select guardsmen to carry federal firearms at U.S. military installations where they are located.

Also testifying was David Purkey, assistant commissioner over Homeland Security in the state Department of Safety. He told lawmakers the agency has issued 50 threat warning assessments to government agencies so far this year. Among them was a March threat involving military recruiting centers, which did not materialize, Purkey noted.

…The FBI for now continues to call Abdulazeez a “homegrown violent extremist” and has stopped short of calling him a terrorist or linking it to extreme religious beliefs.

That had some lawmakers, including Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a physician and former Special Operations member, upset because they say it was a terror attack. The five slain servicemen all deserve Medals of Honor, Green said.

Some Republican lawmakers also didn’t like the idea that under the new handgun-carry regulations Guard members will conceal their weapons and not openly carry at armories, recruiting centers and U.S. Air Force facilities in Tennessee. Haston said he doesn’t want distractions caused by open carrying. Moreover, a number will be wearing gun belts so would-be attackers won’t know who is armed and who is not, he pointed out.

…Green, meanwhile, said he believes any Guard member with a military ID should be given a state-issued handgun-carry permit and not have to undergo the eight-hour gun safety course.

But Haston said less than a third of Guard members have specific training on handgun use and safety. The state training should cut down on problems like accidental discharges, he said. Moreover, Haston noted, the required Tennessee Bureau of Investigation background check for permit holders is good, as well.

The adjutant general cited the 2013 case of a National Guard recruiter who drew his handgun and shot three superior officers. He said that between the TBI background check, annual health assessments that include a mental health component and a “buddy system” where members are paired with a colleagues, most problems should be addressed.

TN National Guard seeks $18M in security upgrades

The Tennessee National Guard is installing limited security measures at its facilities across the state, but providing a high level of security upgrades, including high-grade fencing at facilities without it, would cost about $18.2 million, Adjutant Gen. Max Haston told a state legislative committee Monday.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

Haston said that 31 TNG recruiters who work out of seven “storefront” recruiting centers across the state will not be moved back into those centers until special bullet-resistant glass and barriers designed to block vehicles from crashing through are installed. After five members of the U.S. military were shot and killed by a lone gunman at a Chattanooga reserve center last month, the Guard recruiters were pulled out of their storefront locations and into the nearest National Guard armory, where Haston said they remain.

The top military official in state government gave a House committee his first report on security measures taken at TNG facilities in the wake of the July 16 shootings, including his directive last week allowing Guard personnel with Tennessee handgun-carry permits to go armed in state-owned armories. He said special camera-phone devices are being installed or are on order for 21 armories, and officials are working toward adding reinforced glass at the seven storefront recruiting centers, which the state leases in privately owned shopping centers.

Haston said the $18.2 million estimate is for a higher level of security upgrades at all facilities not already “hardened” with crash-proof fencing, security monitors and other measures that exist at facilities such as the Air National Guard bases in Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville and at TNG headquarters in Nashville.

“I have absolutely no illusions that we are going to get a windfall and we will upgrade as funds become available,” Haston told the committee.

Note: See also WPLN WPLN.

Haston says the guard will add a clear Mylar coating to the windows to make them more bullet resistant. They’re also installing camera systems. Other than the cost, Haston says those were easy decisions.

But allowing recruiters to carry a mix of government and personally-owned weapons was a step he didn’t really want to take. Democrats at a legislative hearing asked what if a recruiter turns out to be unstable. Haston said that was considered.

“That is a grave concern of mine,” he said about the prospect of a uniformed attack. “However, we have weighed the costs, and we feel that the balance of justice is more to the other than it is having somebody that is mentally deranged.”

The Guard still has some details to work out, such as whether recruiters will be able to carry a gun in their federally-issued vehicle.

TN National Guard changes rules on carrying government guns, personal pistols

News release from Tennessee National Guard
NASHVILLE – Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Tennessee’s Adjutant General, today announced that the Military Department has taken steps to increase the security of its personnel and facilities to include allowing Tennessee Army & Air National Guard members with valid Tennessee State Handgun Carry Permits to carry handguns at State Armories and facilities.

Haston’s decision follows Governor Bill Haslam’s directive, issued earlier this month in the aftermath of the deadly shootings in Chattanooga, to review current Guard personnel who are authorized to be armed in the performance of their duties, and identify and arm Guardsmen where necessary to protect themselves, citizens and Guard facilities.

“We have been very deliberate in making the decision to arm our Tennessee National Guard,” said Haston. “This is not a step that we take lightly, but it is apparent that military personnel have been targeted and the protection of our Soldiers and Airmen is of utmost importance. Physical security and risk assessment is something that we continually do as part of our day to day obligations.”

Haston also announced that selected Guard personnel working on Federal facilities would be allowed to carry federally issued handguns.

“Federal law prohibits carrying a personally owned weapon on a Federal facility,” said Haston. “Therefore, selected personnel working on Federal property will draw and carry a federally issued firearm for protection.”

Governor Haslam also directed Maj. Gen. Haston to review security policies and procedures at National Guard armories, storefront recruiting facilities and other installations to ensure the safety of Guardsmen, citizens and property.

“Operational security prohibits me from detailing other measures taken to increase the protection of our personnel and facilities, but as I said before, the protection of our Soldiers, Airmen and their families is of the utmost importance and we are doing everything possible to insure their safety.” Haston said.

Under the direction of Governor Haslam, Maj. Gen. Haston immediately moved Army National Guard recruiters from storefront locations to nearby armories after a lone gunman attacked two Chattanooga military facilities, killing four Marines and one Sailor on July 16, 2015. The temporary move allows for Guard personnel to evaluate what measures can be taken to enhance the security of these locations.

“The Military Department will continually evaluate security measures at both its state and federal facilities based on threat information obtained from numerous agencies to insure that our Soldiers, Airmen, civilian employees and their families are safe and secure.” said Haston.

No Haslam decision on Guardsmen bringing guns to work

While the state’s handgun-carry permitting process is being accelerated for Tennessee National Guardsmen, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office acknowledges the directive does not yet address whether Guard personnel can bring their firearms to work.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

“It’s an issue still being worked on at this point,” Haslam spokeswoman Laura Herzog said Thursday in an email.

Haslam on Wednesday announced he had moved the state’s seven storefront recruiting centers to more secure facilities in National Guard armories.

But because at least some are co-located with federal military installations or on federally owned property, there are legal issues involved. The U.S. military does not allow firearms except for designated personnel, administration officials have previously said.

The Tennessee Firearms Association said the governor’s plans say “nothing about arming the Tennessee military facilities to repel future terrorist attacks on those facilities. It does not indicate any plans to prepare the Tennessee military to respond to possible terrorist attacks at non-military civilian targets” and eliminate what the group calls “gun-free zones” vulnerable to “terrorist attacks.”

Note: Scott Walker, governor of Arizona and a Republican presidential candidate, has issued an executive order declaring National Guardsmen can take guns to work. Similar actions have been taken by some other governors, including those in Arizona and Texas.

…A day after the Chattanooga shooting, a Navy recruiter in Gainesville, Ga., accidentally shot himself in the leg at a recruiting center, WSB-TV in Atlanta reported.

The Tennessee Firearms Association press release is below:
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Some governors — not yet Haslam — move to arm National Guardsmen

While governors in six states have now ordered state National Guardsman to be armed or recruitment personnel located to more secure locations after five U.S. service members were killed in a gunman’s attacks on two U.S. military facilities in Chattanooga on Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has not.

Further from Andy Sher:
In response to questions posed by the Times Free Press on Saturday, Haslam Press Secretary David Smith said in an email “the governor has reached out to [Tennessee Adjutant] Gen. Haston, and we’re looking at appropriate next steps.”

Haston has been out of the country, judging by a Facebook entry he posted Thursday, and it was unclear when any action, if any, would be taken.

…Joe Carr, a former GOP state lawmaker from Murfreesboro, is blistering Haslam, a fellow Republican, over having “been as silent on the issue of acting in pursuant to his oath of office and his responsibilities as Commander and Chief of the Tennessee National Guard.”

“Gov. Haslam: The people are waiting for you to step forward and provide the leadership that five other governors have provided to their states,” Carr said. “The time for dithering is over.

Note: A story on actions in other states is below.
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Teen charged with killing TN National Guardsman

LOBELVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A 15-year-old was charged Thursday with one count of criminal homicide in the fatal shooting of a longtime member of the National Guard at a Tennessee armory, according to the state’s Bureau of Investigation.

The suspect didn’t work at the armory, which is usually locked, but somehow gained access to the building and fired several shots Wednesday evening, authorities said. One struck Sgt. 1st Class Michael W. Braden, 45, who had been with the guard for 20 years, law enforcement and Guard officials said. He died later at a hospital.

The teenager, questioned as a person of interest early Thursday, was being held without bond at a juvenile detention facility, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine said. The suspect was arrested without incident at his family’s home in Lobelville, about 75 miles southwest of Nashville, officials said.

It was unclear whether the suspect and victim knew each other.

DeVine said the building doesn’t have surveillance cameras, but at least one other person in addition to the shooter and the victim was at the armory at the time of the shooting. But DeVine said it was unclear whether there were any eyewitnesses.

The teenager could be tried as an adult, but DeVine said that as of Thursday afternoon, he didn’t believe the case had been transferred to the adult system.

Note: Gov. Bill Haslam issued this statement on the slaying:
“Sergeant Braden was a 27-year veteran of the Tennessee Army National Guard, and it’s a tragic day when we lose a decorated hero who has served his country so well. Crissy’s and my thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Jennifer, and their three children during this difficult time.”