What To Know About Veteran Overwatch, Protecting Children At School

Veteran Anthony Tripplett Jr. began Veteran Overwatch to stand guard nearby his daughters' school campus with a legally concealed firearm, a bullet-proof vest, and his service dog by his side.

By Kari Apted | Published

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Concerns over school security have escalated in school systems nationwide following the tragic mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas last May that took 21 lives including 19 students. Unfortunately, the conversation over school security is often contentious, with one side believing gun-free zones keep kids safe and the other side pushing for the presence of armed security guards on every campus. After seeing how scared his own children were following the Uvalde shooting, veteran Anthony Triplett, Jr. decided to create Veteran Overwatch to stand guard at his local schools.

Triplett is a 31-year-old, nine-year Army veteran who lives near Lacey, Washington, a suburb of Olympia. He has worked in federal security and formed All in a Day’s Work, a nonprofit organization to address veteran suicides. Veteran Overwatch was created out of his desire to give veterans another purpose after leaving the military while helping keep kids safe at school.

Triplett’s children attend Evergreen Forest Elementary and Nisqually Middle School, both part of the North Thurston Public School System. When he decided to start Veteran Overwatch, he sent a proposal to the school district and the City of Lacey. According to an article in The Olympian, North Thurston Public Schools spokesman Aaron Wyatt said that security concerns were already high, with some community members offering to patrol campus hallways and others asking for bullet-proof glass to be installed.

Even so, Triplett did not get a response from the school system or the City of Lacey. That’s when he decided to take it upon himself to stand guard near North Thurston High School, dressed in a bulletproof vest with his service dog Jade beside him. Triplett also carried a pistol in public view, allowable under Washington’s open carry law, and remained off school property to avoid breaking any laws.  

His first day of Veteran Overwatch guard duty drew mixed responses from students, administrators, and local law enforcement officers. Students leaving campus for lunch greeted him warmly, but others seemed concerned by his presence. Soon, school officials and a Lacey police officer showed up to find out what Triplett was doing.

Triplett told them that he knows firsthand what it means to be a Black man carrying a gun in America, and he welcomed their questions. He understood the concerns some people had over his presence, but he said that perspectives seemed to change by the end of the conversation. He later went to Evergreen Forest Elementary, where he was met by nervous school officials worried that he might be a vigilante instead of a concerned parent.

A Thurston County Sheriff’s Deputy also paid Triplett a visit to ensure that no one was being antagonized. He provides his Veteran Overwatch business card to anyone with questions about his presence near schools, and also texts law enforcement departments to let them know when he’s going to be on guard. Overall, public response has been positive, something Triplett attributes to the area’s large military population and its proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

However, the community has received complaints about Veteran Overwatch, citing concerns that volunteers haven’t been given background checks, psych evaluations, or proper security training. Some suggest the organization’s volunteers would be better off applying for law enforcement officer jobs for appropriate vetting, but that might not solve the problem. School resource officers are in short supply across the nation, with many districts turning to private security agencies to fill the gaps.  

Veteran Overwatch

Thurston County Sheriff’s candidate Derek Sanders is in full support of Veteran Overwatch, as he said in a Facebook post about the organization. “I’m proud to say I fully trust any veteran volunteer who can pass a comprehensive background check and psychological examination to protect our schools, and I look forward to working on this program collaboratively with veterans, students, teachers, and school officials as your next Sheriff,” he said.

Current Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza is a veteran but says that school security is a job for trained law enforcement officers. Other veterans have volunteered with Veteran Overwatch, agreeing with Triplett’s stance that the grassroots security force will hasten response times in the event of a school shooting in Lacey. Though the group’s future remains unclear, it could mimic Israel’s successful approach to school security, where volunteers assist undermanned, overworked local law enforcement agencies in keeping school campuses safe.