Forty-two years ago, at the age of 18, I took the oath of office on my first day as an Air Force Academy cadet. The mission of the academy was not only to train future leaders for the Air Force but for America as well, because, in the end, most academy graduates do not serve full military careers. The honor code became an integral part of everyday life. These are the values that I, and most graduates of the 1960s and early ’70s, took with us from our four years at the academy.
I, as did many graduates, underwent pilot training followed by tours of duty in Vietnam. Like military men and women of today, we did our best to become technically competent and professional leaders. Never, during my four years at the academy and subsequent pilot and combat training, was the word warrior used; nor, whether as a cadet or officer, did I ever encounter “Christian supremacist” rhetoric.
But then he went with his son to an orientation:
Instead, my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets. Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder. He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks. This “invitation” was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy. I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.
I no longer recognize the Air Force Academy as the institution I attended almost four decades earlier. At that point, I had no idea how invasive this extreme evangelical “cancer” had become throughout the entire military, that what I had witnessed was far from an isolated case of a few religious zealots.
The pre-existing Air Force code of ethics in The Little Blue Book states:
“Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates.”
Here are just a few violations of that principle over the last three years: Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry hung a banner in the team locker room reading: “Competitor’s Creed: I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.” Baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, recruited from evangelical Christian Bethel College, forced players to lead team prayer during practice. When asked about locker room prayer in March 2007, Lt. Gen. John Regni, the academy superintendent, responded “we have chaplains that are attached to each of the teams and they are very important in that area.” In a July 12, 2005 interview with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, stated, “...we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.” For over a decade, the official academy newspaper ran ads stating: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us! There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” The ads were signed by 16 department heads, nine permanent professors, both the incoming and outgoing deans of faculty, the athletic director and more than 200 academy senior officers and their spouses.
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, in just a few short years has received complaints from more than 6,000 service members and discovered church-state violations at the academies, at military installations in Iraq and around the world, and even within the inner corridors of the Pentagon.
The Christian supremacist fascism first reported at the Air Force Academy is endemic throughout the military. From the top down, there has been a complete repudiation of constitutional values and time-honored codes of ethics and honor codes in favor of religious ideology. And we now have a revolving door between Blackwater USA, which is Bush’s Praetorian Guard, and the U.S. military at every level. The citizen-soldier military dictated by our founding fathers has been replaced with professional and mercenary right-wing Christian crusaders in control of the world’s most powerful military. The risks to our democratic form of government cannot be overstated.
This evangelical Christian supremacist fascism within our military and government is a cancer. Officers, especially commanders, who violate the original code of ethics, must be rooted out of the military. The undermining of the Constitution, especially by senior military officers, must end.
As I look back at my 30 years as an active-duty officer, two combat tours in Vietnam, decorations including air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, I realize that not once was my service in support or defense of the Constitution. For the very first time, I am upholding my oath of office.
Thank you for your service, sir. And thank you for this article.