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Should The National Guard Be Used for School Safety? Top Ten

A police officer chats with the parking lot monitor at my son’s elementary school these days. If Senator Barbara Boxer has her way, a kitted-out National Guardsman will join them, weapon in hand.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, the school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, Senator Boxer proposed a bill that provides more funding for school security.  The bill also suggests that National Guardsman should supplement the work of the school’s security force.

Does anyone else think this is a terrible idea? It isn’t that I don’t care about the safety of school children. I see photos of the Sandy Hook children and see my own little boy’s class at school. I couldn’t bear to lose even one of them. Yet armed National Guardsmen at schools are not the answer. Here are the top ten things we all need to consider:

1. National Guardsmen are real people.  Sometimes I think that the rest of the world doesn’t think of the National Guard as real people with real families and real jobs. Instead, people seem to think that National Guardsmen are like a giant box of overpaid GI Joe dolls sitting on a shelf just taking up space. So not true.

2. Public school safety is not a national emergency.  By law, the National Guard can be summoned during times of war or national emergency. Yet Sandy Hook is not an ongoing national emergency like Hurricane Katrina or the Watts Riots or even the accompaniment of the Little Rock 9 to school in 1957. Sandy Hook, like Columbine or Virginia Tech, is a national tragedy. It is an incident of horrific domestic violence that ended the lives of innocents and forever altered their families, their classmates, their townsmen, their country.  As powerful as National Guard members can be , they cannot turn back time–no matter how much we want them to.

3. So many schools. According to the US Department of Education, there are nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States.  Taking on an additional duty of supplementing school security would be burdensome both financially and organizationally.  In a time of fiscal cliffs, is this the best use of funding?

4. Not enough Guard members. According to the 2011 Demographics Profile of the Military Community provided by the Department of Defense, there are 365,169 members of the Army National Guard.  If only two members of the Army National Guard are assigned to each school, wouldn’t that mean we need about two thirds of our Guard members devoted to school duty?

5. The attack from inside.  The National Guard is trained to fight a foe that comes from the outside. If hoards were arriving at our public schools to attack school children, the National Guard would be the ideal force to set a perimeter and keep the evil out.  But incidents like this at schools and at workplaces are attacks from the inside.  They are attacks from those who are known to us.  The FBI recommends threat assessment by a team of trained insiders, not by posting a guard.

6. National Guardsmen expect to deploy.  Guardsmen would not shirk an assigned duty.  After a decade of war, Guardsmen sign up knowing that they will almost certainly deploy.  It isn’t just one weekend a month and two weeks in summer.  They know that the military is now structured so that we need Guard members on hand to go overseas. Their service is intended to be an immediate and necessary response to an eminent threat, not as a sop to our fears of the unpredictable.  Would we have recruitment and retention problems if the Guard was expected to pull school duty?

7.  Guard service is a strain on families. Guard families often experience their service alone.  It is hard enough to bear the absence of servicemember in Afghanistan or Kuwait.  How much more difficult would it be to justify their absence in uber-safe Bella Vista, AR?  Or Logan, UT. Or Mason, OH?

8.  Impossible vigilance.  Even if the National Guard members assigned to schools were ultra-trained and ultra-competent and totally motivated, the kind of vigilance required to truly prevent an attack would be brain altering for Guardsmen.  While that kind of vigilance is necessary when you have to be aware of an IED on every road, it would be nearly impossible to maintain in a place marked by tiny milk cartons, Hello Kitty backpacks and construction paper.

9.  Where does it end?  If we assign the National Guard to schools, will we also assign them to supplement security at places other attacks have occurred?  Publicly funded colleges?  Courthouses? Movie theaters?  Malls?

10. Look for other alternatives. I would love it if the presence of the National Guard member would ensure the safety of every child ever to attend school anywhere in the world. But Evil is brilliant in its way.  Crafty.  Adaptable. Determined.  By looking to the National Guard as an answer, we prevent ourselves from looking at what we are creating and figuring out what we really need to do next.

About Jacey Eckhart

Jacey Eckhart is the Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.