“I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. ...” —Oath of Office
“Our mission is to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers of character motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.” —Air Force Academy mission statement
“We will not lie, steal, or cheat. ...” —Air Force Academy honor code
“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.” —Religious Toleration (Air Force Code of Ethics, 1997)
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.
In April of 2004, my son, after receiving a coveted appointment to the United States Air Force Academy, asked me to accompany him to the orientation for new appointees. This 24-hour visceral event changed my life forever, and crushed my son’s lifelong dream of following in my footsteps.
The orientation began with a one-hour “warrior” rant to appointees and parents by the commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida. The fact that the word warrior had replaced leadership was a signal of what was to follow. I later learned that cadets, to determine when a new record was established, had created a game in which warrior was counted in each speech Weida gave. My son and I then made our way to the modernist aluminum chapel, where I expected to hear a welcome from one or two Air Force chaplains offering counsel, support and an open-door policy for any spiritual or pastoral needs of these future cadets. In 1966, the academy had six gray-haired chaplains: three mainline Protestants, two priests and one rabbi. Any cadet, regardless of religious affiliation, was welcome to see any one of these chaplains, who were reminiscent of Father Francis Mulcahy of “MASH” fame.
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.
In order to better understand this shift to a religious ideology at this once secular institution, I called the Academy Association of Graduates (AOG). Its response: “We don’t get involved in policy.” What I didn’t know was that the AOG, like the academy, had affiliations with James Dobson’s and Ted Haggard’s powerful mega-churches. When Dobson’s Focus on the Family “campus” was completed, the academy skydiving team, with great ceremony, delivered the “keys from heaven” to Dobson. During some alumni reunions, the AOG arranged bus tours of Focus on the Family facilities in nearby Colorado Springs, Colo. I also learned that the same Monday night Bible studies discussed at orientation were taught by bused-in members of these evangelical mega-churches and that some spouses of senior academy staff members were employed by these same religious institutions. It seemed that my beloved United States Air Force Academy had morphed into the Rocky Mountain Bible College.
The academy chaplain staff had grown 300 percent while the cadet population had decreased by 25 percent: from six mainline chaplains to 18 chaplains, the additional 12 all evangelical. The academy even gained 25 reserve chaplains, also nonexistent in earlier times, for a total of 43 chaplains for about 4,000 cadets, or one chaplain for every 100 cadets. ...
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.
LSB: Take time to read the full story - it's a fascinating read. Although I am a Christian, this is still troubling and begs to be addressed. For if the religious freedoms of one group are threatened, how much longer are the rest of us free to practice our own form of religion?