On Friday, December 13, 2019, Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson made his final trip home to Enterprise, Alabama. Thousands of local citizens stood in the cold rain to line the roadside where his procession traveled. They waved American flags and paid their respects to this young hero as he passed. The entire student body of his high school alma mater stood humbly and in silence as the white hearse drove slowly by the campus.
Watson was a recent graduate of the United States Naval Academy and a flight school student at Pensacola Naval Air Station in the panhandle of Florida, two hours from his hometown. Tragically, he was one of three men murdered when a Saudi national who was training on the post opened fire inside a classroom. Mortally wounded by at least five bullets, Watson spent his last heroic moments on this earth directing first responders to the shooter’s location. He died a hero.
Ensign Watson was not only one of America’s best and brightest sons, he was one of us. He was a shooter. Joshua Watson grew up enjoying the outdoors and shot rifles competitively, both at Enterprise High School and later at the U.S. Naval Academy. As the captain of the rifle team at Annapolis, Watson led Navy to their first victory over Army in a decade, posting high scores in both smallbore and air rifle. Despite his prowess on the range, Watson died standing watch, unarmed by military regulations that rely on civilian law enforcement officers and private security guards to protect our service members and their families.
It didn’t have to be that way, not after similar tragedies at Fort Bragg in 1995, and again at Fort Hood in 2009 and 2014, where active shooters preyed on unarmed service members. “He was well-qualified to have a firearm and defend himself,” Watson’s brother Adam told Fox News. “If we are going to ask these young men and women to stand watch for our country, they need the opportunity to defend themselves. This isn’t the first time this happened, and if we don’t change something, it won’t be the last.” At the risk of politicizing this tragedy, I couldn’t agree more.
When U.S. service members deploy to combat zones overseas, they do so armed. So-called “green-on-blue” attacks by Allied troops have become increasingly common in Afghanistan, and the military response has been to ensure that our troops have the means to defend themselves at all times. This method of self-defense comes to a screeching halt stateside, though, leaving brave men and women like Ensign Watson hopelessly disadvantaged in the face of an armed attack. I guess I don’t see the controversy in arming our armed forces. After all, if we can’t trust members of our military with a gun, who can we trust?
However, there are notable exceptions to these policies, including the Marine Corps’ use of “Guardian Angels” as part of their force-protection strategy. In a 2006 policy letter, General James Mattis outlined the need for such a program to keep his Marines safe both at home and abroad. “A mature, alert and trusted individual is hidden, watching over his unit’s security in an ambush mentality.” According to media reports, armed Guardian Angels provide security for Marine officer trainees at Quantico, Virginia, to prevent events such as these. It is time for the rest of the military to embrace a force-protection strategy that will keep our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines safe at all times.
Just before Watson was laid to rest at the Alabama National Cemetery, members of the Wildcat Rifle Team at Enterprise High School honored Watson by adding his initials to the team’s logo, ensuring that his memory will live on along the shooters who will follow in his footsteps. We should honor him further by ensuring that this never happens again — that we never ask a member of the military to stand a post unarmed. Rest in peace, Ensign Watson.