Pentagon leaders honor troops killed in Chattanooga

Pentagon leaders honor troops killed in Chattanooga
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Pentagon leaders on Saturday honored the lives of the four Marines and sailor who were killed last month in a domestic terrorist attack at a memorial service in Chattanooga. 

"As we gather today, we cannot erase the pain of our loss … but still we come together as fellow citizens to honor these five fallen patriots," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at the service, attended by hundreds of Marines, sailors and family members. 

"Their lives were truly exemplary," Carter said. "Many of them served abroad, and fought on the front lines of faraway battlefields in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Last month, a lone gunman opened fired at a military recruiting center, injuring one Marine, before going to a center for reservists and opening fire again, this time killing four Marines. One sailor later died of his wounds. 

The oldest victim was 40, the youngest 21. The Marines were members of the Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in Chattanooga, Tenn. The sailor was serving at the Navy Operational Support Center Chattanooga. 

The shooter, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, was killed by police who responded on the scene. The FBI is looking into whether Abdulazeez was radicalized by a terrorist group.

"An ordinary Thursday became a day of extraordinary horror, but also extraordinary heroism, as law enforcement officers, other first responders and shipmates ran into danger to aid and protect others and as colleagues, friends and strangers assisted each other away from danger, even at the risk of their own lives," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who also spoke at the ceremony. 

Carter said the meaning of their killing is still unclear — "what combination of disturbed mind, violent extremism, and hateful ideology was at work, we don’t know." 

"But I do know this: We know that we will do what it takes to protect the service men and women who protect us," he said, adding it was something that President Obama and top military leaders "take personally." 

In the aftermath of the shooting, lawmakers called for allowing troops to carry arms at home in the U.S., at recruiting centers and other places off-base and embedded in civilian areas. 

Carter also ordered immediate steps to improve security at U.S. military installations and called for an immediate review of safety procedures.  

He also clarified Pentagon policy on arming troops at such installations, which he said allowed commanders to arm qualified troops according to threats. 

"And we will do more if necessary," he said. 

"The few who threaten or incite harm to Americans — violent extremists or terrorists, wherever they are — will surely, very surely, no matter how long it takes, come to feel the long arm and the hard fist of justice," he said. 

Mabus hailed the courage of those who were killed, who officials said "willingly ran back into the fight," and recruiters who went to work the following day.

"The courage we witnessed that Thursday did not end with the closing of that awful day. Recruiters nationwide went to work on Friday, encouraging and assisting our nation’s finest young men and women in joining the Navy and Marine Corps. And on Saturday and Sunday, tens of thousands of reservists reported ... for drill weekend, because fear could not keep them away," he said. 

"Five husbands, fathers, brothers, children, workmates taken from us suddenly, violently, cruelly. But what can never be taken is our love and our memories. And as we remember these individuals we cherished, it should not be as victims. Their lives should not be defined by the terrible, inexplicable way they ended, but rather by how they lived and the rich legacies each of them left." 

Killed in the shooting were Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, 40, of Springfield, Mass. Sullivan deployed twice to Iraq and once to the Asia Pacific region. He was awarded two Purple Hearts. 

Marine Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt, 35, of Morganton, N.C., deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He was married with one daughter and one son. 

Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, 25, of St. Croix Falls, Wisc., deployed to Afghanistan and Okinawa, Japan. He was married with one son. 

Navy Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall S. Smith, 26, of Paulding, Ohio served three years aboard amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, before transferring to the Navy reserve center. He was married with three daughters. 

The youngest was Marine Lance Cpl. Squire K.P. "Skip" Wells, 21, of Atlanta, Ga. Wells was part of the Naval Reserve Officer's Training Corps at Sprayberry High School. 

Also at the service were Naval Chief of Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Adm. Robin Braun and other military officials.