Retired Army Sgt. Howard Ray is a hero. Just ask the men and women—both comrades and civilians—whom he saved at Fort Hood back in 2009, when Nidal Hasan went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others.“I know for a fact that had I had my firearm that day, I would have been the deciding factor that stopped that terrorist ...”
For his efforts to rescue many that fateful day, Sgt. Ray received a medal of commendation. Yet the recent killing of four Marines and a Navy sailor in Chattanooga, Tenn., by a lone-wolf radical Muslim terrorist has prompted Sgt. Ray, recently retired, to speak out about an injustice that continues to cost lives of our military men and women.
“The victims and the survivors of all of the families that are affected are so tired of, ‘I’m sorry,’” Sgt. Ray told me in an exclusive interview just a few weeks after the Chattanooga attacks. “‘I’m sorry’ does not buy you the lives of a brother, a sister, a mother. It doesn’t bring them back. It doesn’t un-wound those that are wounded. It’s just an empty statement.
“The sign on the door with all the bullet holes in it was the biggest sign of truth I’ve ever seen. No guns; gun-free zones simply don’t work. Never have.”
Watching reports of those attacks took Sgt. Ray back six years to when he found himself unarmed in the face of a heavily armed attacker bent on killing as many people as he could as quickly as possible. It’s not a situation he believes any serviceman or servicewoman should ever be put in again.
“The crazy thing about it is that it seemed just like any other day,” he recalled. “[I was] fixing to head back on to post, realizing, ‘Oops, I’ve got my gun on me.’ I ran inside, and I put my gun on top of my dresser.”
Minutes later, Sgt. Ray pulled onto Fort Hood to go about his normal daily duties. Of course, he had no idea what the afternoon would bring.
“About 1:20, we started hearing people yell and scream,” he said. “There was a gentleman that came out yelling, ‘This guy has lost his mind!’ The action that I took that day was just directing people to safety. [I] pushed everybody out the side, and there was a gal that froze up. I grabbed her, and we start moving across the back side of the parking lot.”
As he tried to get the woman to safety and the attack moved closer to his location, Sgt. Ray prepared for offensive action.
“At that time, I reached back, swept my shirt back, grabbed for my pistol,” he said. “I looked down into an empty holster. I said, ‘Oh, crap.’ Ultimately what ended up happening is he came around, he raised his gun, [I made sure I was in front of her] and he started shooting.
“We had bullets ricocheting off the ground probably four to six inches from our feet. I looked up and his gun jammed.”“How in the world have, all of a sudden, I lost my right to carry? Am I no longer a United States citizen? Am I no longer supporting and defending that Constitution which I said I’d support and defend?”
In truth, Sgt. Ray had been forced by Department of Defense regulations to leave his firearm at home that fateful day. And his having to do so played a big role in who lived and who died when violence came calling.
“I know for a fact that had I had my firearm that day, I would have been the deciding factor that stopped that terrorist that day,” he said. “I have substantially more training than most soldiers do. And it’s not a matter of fact of if, but when, I would have made that shot, and a lot of people could be alive because of that.”
The recent episode in Chattanooga opened those old wounds for Sgt. Ray. And he’s no longer willing to keep quiet and blindly follow regulations that can, and will continue to, cost innocent lives.
“Who thought of this?” he asks, referring to disarming U.S. military members when on American soil. “Who was sitting in the back room somewhere that said, ‘You know what? When our men and women come home, let’s disarm our soldiers.’
“How in the world have, all of a sudden, I lost my right to carry? Am I no longer a United States citizen? Am I no longer supporting and defending that Constitution which I said I’d support and defend?”
In fact, Sgt. Ray sees being disarmed as not only a grave danger, but a direct insult to all those in the military who are denied their right to armed self-defense.
“It’s definitely a slap in the face to the men and women in uniform,” he said. “Once we go to combat, these weapons are in our hands 24/7. We’re well trained, and then they come back over and they lose their lives. They’re not able to carry their weapon. They’re not able to do the exact same thing that kept them alive in a war zone. It’s open season on our military.”
Sgt. Ray said that while his being awarded a medal of commendation for bravery at Fort Hood was gratifying, the fact that regulations concerning carry of firearms on military bases weren’t changed after the attack was an overwhelming disappointment.
“Truth of the matter is, it would have been an award if the government looked at their policies and said, ‘You know what, we messed up,’” he said. “But they chose to continue down the same route, and over a hundred people have either lost their lives or have been wounded. That’s the impact!
“And to not change this policy—to say as some of our fearless leaders have in the higher ranks of our military, ‘We’re not going to even consider it,’— is appalling, and it’s repulsive. Because what they’re telling the victims and survivors is that, look, your lives don’t matter. You’re a pawn. We don’t need you. We can get more.”
Sgt. Ray said he has no doubt both the Fort Hood attack and the murders at Chattanooga military installations were examples of radical Islamic terrorism, not “workplace violence” or “lone wolf” gunmen with no ulterior motive.
“Anytime someone attaches some kind of religious ideology with the intent to destroy or kill a certain people or persons, that’s not just an act of violence,” he said. “That’s terrorism—all day and all night.
“When someone doesn’t address their enemy for what it is, the enemy goes unseen and is in your home before you know it to cause devastation and destruction. What we’re going to have is we’re going to have terrorism to the nth degree that we don’t even want to imagine.” "Our politics are in a different arena. It’s not good enough to go out and vote. You have to be actively engaged. Otherwise, these people that are in office will simply run right over you."
Sgt. Ray largely blames President Barack Obama for the fact that our servicemen and servicewomen remain unprotected, even after it has been proven that they are targets of terrorism here at home. After all, Ray says, Obama brags about having a “pen and a phone.” He could change the regulation if he really cared.
“Why don’t [Obama] pick up the phone and call the survivors of the Fort Hood shooting victims, because guess what? He doesn’t have time,” Sgt. Ray said. “Number two, why don’t you take your pen and finally do something right with it, and that is make sure that our men and women are protected [and] remove these stupid regulations?”
Sgt. Ray said that, ultimately, disarming of our troops in the United States has not only caused a very low morale, it is also devastating to recruiting efforts for the various branches of our military.
“They’re appalled,” he said, referring to potential recruits. “They don’t want a part of that, and I know that. I used to be an Army recruiter. And how sad is that? We don’t get the best of the best.”
Sgt. Ray added that his experience of being left defenseless when face-to-face with evil has prompted him to start a new group that he hopes will have an impact on putting things back to the way they should be for our servicemen and servicewomen.
“This is not the America that I fought to protect,” he said. “And that’s why I started Survivors of Gun Violence Against Gun Control—the main reason is that we’re in a different time. Our politics are in a different arena. It’s not good enough to go out and vote. You have to be actively engaged. Otherwise, these people that are in office will simply run right over you."
“It never crossed my mind that I would see—not only as a soldier, but as an American—that our military would be basically stripped of its rights; the right to your Second Amendment, to defend yourself. Don’t let that happen!”