Oswego, NY – "There's probably more grandmas involved in our group than anyone else," says Jon Alvarez, a Hannibal farmer and real estate broker who is also an Iraq war veteran.
Alvarez says he started up a group of concerned citizens to help counter crime and learn how to respond in the event of a major emergency.
He says the town has an emergency response plan but nobody seems to have read it.
"You know, it's like the Boy Scouts' motto, be prepared'," says Alvarez. "If people are knowledgeable and know what's right and wrong then they'll do the right thing when the situation calls for it."
Alvarez says events like Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and even "Black Friday" tramplings, show how quickly situations can get out of control.
He says budget cuts have limited the local police presence to where Sheriff's deputies respond to crimes but are not able to be "proactive."
Alvarez says he hopes involved citizens will help deter crime and says they will abide by the law.
"You see a crime in progress, you call 9-1-1, keep eyes on, maybe jot down as much information as you can," he says. "You know, at the same time if you've got a violent crime occurring how many times have we seen on YouTube or in the news just last week, some pregnant teenager was attacked on a public bus, kicked, beaten and no one helped. So, what would you prefer. Would you prefer a detached populace, you know, detached neighbors where you have a home invasion at your house and they're not willing to come to your assistance? Or would you rather have people help you?"
Alvarez says the name was intended in the historical sense.
"Our colonial forefathers formed militias for their own common defense and to pitch in in emergency situations. What's wrong with that?"
But he says, Undersheriff Robert Lighthall came to their first meeting and informed them that New York military law apparently restricts what a militia is and is not.
Alvarez says Lighthall understood that "We're all law abiding citizens, we're not crazed radicals, we're not racists, we're all-inclusive," says Alvarez. "Basically, he said just don't call it a militia."
Alvarez says he has no problem with that.
"Some folks were a little put off by the fact, here we are a nation of free men and we have, in essence, the government telling us we can't organize and, you know, raise a militia here within the town," he says.
"But bottom line, it looks like we're going to be playing a game of semantics. I'm encouraging the group, once we decide to vote, that we certainly select a different name just to-- I mean, why do anything that's going to be detrimental to what it is that we're trying to achieve? Which is to help law enforcement, to help town officials to maintain order and keep the peace and protect the populace."
Alvarez says the media also had its interpretation of "militia."
"They come away from the meeting a little disappointed when they find out we're nothing more than a glorified neighborhood watch," he says. "It's very cute to see the disappointment on the face of the reporters."
He says the group will likely take name suggestions at its next meeting and, while he'll recommend it not use the term "militia," it's up to the group to vote what to call itself.
He says they've had two meetings so far with around 30 people in attendance at each. At their next meeting, he says they'll also go over a copy of the town's emergency response plan.
He says many folks including a number of "grandmas want to be involved but are not fit for, or interested in, firefighter or state guard training, but in an emergency would be willing and able to help out with basic first aid or triage.
Alvarez says he hopes to apply for designation as a non-profit community organization.