I used feel safe on base. Before the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., before the gunman at Ft. Hood, maybe, I used to feel safest when I was on a military base.
Are we still safe on our military bases despite the Navy Yard shooting?
Before today I would swear that we were. Probably because I grew up on a military base.
My youngest self knew that the gate guards checked every single sticker. The commissary lady always examined Mommy’s ID card. Without a uniform like Daddy’s, no one could go into the hangar.
On base, it was just us. Bad people, dangerous people — “not us” people were turned away at the gate. You still had to lock your bike up at the bowling alley, maybe. But on base we were safe.
Unsafe was what my dad was in Vietnam. Unsafe was what my husband and every other servicemember was when they deployed.
Being unsafe was a part of deployment, not part of being home. Because on deployment, the enemy was present, able and angry.
That’s something I could accept and compartmentalize in it’s own place in my mind. I could watch the Marines and their weapons board the ship with my husband and think of that quote, A ship is safe in the harbor. But that is not what ships are for.
I could know that ships are for war. Planes are for war. Soldiers and Marines are for war.
But an office building on a base? Office buildings are for paperwork. Office buildings are for routines. Office buildings are for ultimate safety.
Until they are not. I spent the day listening to coverage of the shootings at the Navy Yard while confirmed reports of the dead climbed. I listened while workers told about running from the building and relieved family members talked about their loved ones still inside.
When I spoke to my daughter, I confessed to her than I kept listening because I was afraid that the gunman or gunmen would turn out not to be one of “them. “ I was afraid the gunman would be one of us.*
“Mom,” she said gently. “ Who else is it going to be?”
And that is what I’m afraid of most, I guess. Our gates and guards and stickers and badges and cards and uniforms and security keep “them” out. Admirably.
When the enemy looks like us, when the enemy might be us, then how are we ever going to feel safe?
My friend Amy says that is the definition of terrorism — that you feel unsafe in places that should be safe. She says you have two choices, cower in fear or go on with your life.
She knows that I will be like everyone else. I will go on with my life. But I will miss that child’s sense of safety — that a gate guard can keep the bad guys at bay, that an office building is only for paperwork, that you can send your loved ones to the movies, to elementary school, to an on base processing center and be sure that they are safe … in an unsafe world.
*Authors Note: Since this was written the gunman was identified by the FBI as Aaron Alexis, age 34, a former avionics electrician with the U.S. Navy.