I Used To Feel Safe On Base


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. 

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former 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. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • RGP

    No political solution is needed. On a per capita basis, crimerates in all categories are significantly lower on military installations than any U.S. metro area. Ask your base Provost Marshall or equivalent if question this assertion. We should focus on ensuring a quick, effective responses when these tragic events are undertaken. Please don’t be influenced by the media’s phony calls for action. We live in a free country and sometimes people will victimize others which tests our nation’s resolve. Lets mourn the losses while avoiding the fear trap.

  • stone

    I agree with RGP. “Lets mourn the losses while avoiding the fear trap.”

  • Nelson

    We are in the best country

  • TeeJae

    As I currently live on a military base, the news of this tragedy yesterday was most unsettling. As was the news of Virginia Tech when I was taking night classes at my local university. As was the news of Clackamas Oregon when I had just been shopping at my local mall that very morning. As was the news of Aurora after I had just sat in a crowded theater the previous weekend. As was the news of Sandy Hook when I lived off base and had to send my first grader back to public school the following Monday morning. And each and every time I thought the victims could have been me, or my child, or my husband, or my parent, or my friend… And that is the worst feeling.

    We are living in sad times. I see comments about being in a “free” country, the “best” country. Yet I don’t understand them. What is “free” about living in fear as we go about our daily lives, doing seemingly “safe” things like going to work, going to college, shopping, seeing a movie, sending our children to school? What is “free” about having our hearts wrenched out every single time we hear news of another such tragedy and cry with the victims’ families as we listen to their stories? I’m sorry I don’t share those same feelings of freedom, of gratitude, of appreciation. No, what I feel is sadness, and loss, and fear, and despair, and shame to live in a so-called “safe” country where atrocities like this continue to happen over and over and over again.

  • Stacey Phillips

    I know exactly how you feel. I always knew that when my hubby deployed he was in danger. He even got paid extra for it! When they are in port, you expect them to be safe. You don’t expect to have some nut shooting at them in their offices and hangers. I don’t know that I will even feel safe enough to live in base housing again. I hate this. I hate feeling scared and vulnerable in my “safe” zone. I always associated the base with safety and the gates represented protection. What happens now that the threat is on the inside?

  • NeoConVet

    Suggest we permit the arming of more soldiers / Navy etc on bases. Officers, NCO’s wearing sidearms should be rather common, especially in a time of war. It should not be a matter of trust but of protection and common since.

    • Harold Potter

      I Agree with you 100%, after all military solders, Marine, Air Forced & Navy were all tought to use fire arms. That is why most of us joined in the 1St place, To help defend our country. Most bleeding hearts in Government want to ban our guns altogeather. If every Military person would have been authorized to cary a side arm at all times while on duty, and also keep a fire arm in his residence on base. This last killing spree, He may have got off one shot or so, but he wouldn”t have as many as he did before getting cut down himself. A retireed Air Force NCO Retired 1972

  • Evelyn McMullen

    As a military familly we lived on AF bases twice. Raised my sons there. Scary now.

  • RGP

    A military installation is a safe place to live. Those few tragic instances don’t alter the overall per capita crime stats. People need to let there fears be driven by facts not breaking news.

  • Amy

    A military installation isn’t any safer than a regular town or neighborhood. People are people regardless of the gates put up. People have their houses broken into, assaults happen and in this case something much worse. We had a peeping tom years ago, and saw things being vandalized over a period of time. Just because we have service members walking around in uniform doesn’t mean there aren’t regular people underneath. We can never know what is in the minds of anyone else or what motivates them…..People are people.