I am a United States Air Force Officer, a CGO (“Company Grade Officer”; meaning 2Lt, 1Lt. or Captain ) born and raised in an evangelical household. I am writing this statement because I feel compelled to tell people about this. I am horrified and shocked at the blatant violation of the Constitution, and what I feel is a direct attack towards me and officers like me.
Why I write anonymously:
I never thought I would write anything anonymously. I am straight, white, and male. I never experienced being in the “out-group,” the minority. When I imagined whistle blowing about a possible corruption in the government, I imagined I would do so openly; after all, what could they do? Spending these years in the Air Force has taught me the answer to that question. You simply do not know whom to trust when it comes to these particular Christian fundamentalists. The forces at work behind the scenes easily obfuscate themselves, and they they can be brutal. The last person, who spoke out about this on the record, had his career ended, and his service dog poisoned; right in the middle of the faculty offices of the Air Force Academy. It is sad but true I must remain anonymous for the sake of my USAF career and those I love. I hope that someday soon, at least in the 21st century, officers like me can feel safe without fear of reprisal, for fulfilling my oath to support and defend the Constitution. And so I write, but do so anonymously.
The Discovery of the Documents in Question
Often, in one’s career, you hear that it is an unwritten rule you need to be the right type of Christian to be a good officer. But it turns out it IS written! Not in some obscure corner of the Air Force library but front-and-center in the Squadron Officer School (SOS) curriculum. Unit 1, Module 1, the required reading assignment called “Three Important Documents.” This was not an old document, it was written in 2004, and presumably vetted for use when the curriculum was approved for this year’s course.
“Three Important Documents” starts off with a heavy-handed reference to the voluntary addition to the oath of service of the phrase “SO HELP ME GOD” – it is all in CAPS – and teaches that it’s actually a mandatory part of the oath. That little bit of ceremonial deism I noted by otherwise chalked up to somebody copy-pasting text from an old document.
When I got to the part about Spiritual Forces, I was shocked. The spirit world, angels, demons, deity, that’s all stuff I expect to read about in the Bible or mythology. I did not expect a document assigned by Air Education and Training Command (AETC) – the organization charged with the training of officers- a document to read and learn from, to be talking about the spirit world as if its a real and tangible thing. It made me very uncomfortable that apparently the authors of a text about good officer ethics were stating I should watch out for the devil, basically.
The real problem, the one that chills me to the core and gave me flashbacks to my 2nd LT days and being pressured by my superiors, came a few sentences later. In order to be a good ethical officer, according to the example in the text, you should attend chapel regularly and make sure your subordinates know you attend chapel. Otherwise, your command would be seen as ethically lax, and the morality of the unit will deteriorate. There, in black and white, what I always heard being said with winks and nods, and read between the lines, there clear and crisp, as the ink printed on the paper, is the enshrined Air Force Policy – Attend chapel, or be a deviant officer with questionable ethics. There, in my required reading, I read I would be considered not up to the standards of an officer unless I went to church.
I feel scared for my career; in a way I had not felt since my 2nd LT days. I could no longer explain it away as paranoia or a conspiracy theory; my religion was actually under scrutiny by leadership to determine if I am good enough to be one of them. Just as people like me are shocked by reading this, simultaneously the dominionists (certain extreme Christians who’s stated goal is to have the nation run by their particular type of Christians) are encouraged, to continue their campaign of conversion for some, marginalization of the rest.
I felt betrayed by AETC who says they are religiously neutral to the public, but in the education of their officers say the opposite. We swore to support and defend the Constitution but by teaching me I must attend chapel, AETC is attacking the Constitution! What they are doing is dishonorable, and a violation of each of their individual oaths. A pit in my stomach grows, whenever I think about officers discarding their oaths for their personal, fanatical goals.
I feel attacked, and marginalized. I do not attend chapel any longer, because it was just a place to go to be seen, not to be spiritually fulfilled. Now I, and any other young, junior Company Grade Officers (CGO) who choose not to attend chapel, learn through this mandatory reading from AETC, that we are not ethical, and we will encourage troops to be morally lax. I, and every other CGO who doesn’t attend chapel, are being declared bad officers, and strongly suggesting our careers, (like our souls) are dammed.
I feel sad. At a deep and personal, quintessential level, I have been hurt, by an organization that’s been like a second family to me. I have wanted to be an officer since before I was a teenage. When I Crossed into the Blue (the phase that means joining the Air Force) it was the happiest day of my life. But now, I have proof, staring me in the face as I do my homework for AETC, there are powerful officers in my Air Force that do not want people who don’t pass their religious test – people like me.
But despite all this, I feel hopeful. I must believe that not every leader in the Air Force believes religious observances are required of a good officer. Back in my days attending the chapel there were many officers who did not attend, including the Installation Commander. I do not believe these extremists control the entire Air Force, but they are a vocal, and disturbingly powerful, minority. I hope lower ranking officers with an agenda sneaked in the reading material. I hope AETC leadership did not knowingly approve this material. I love my Air Force. The Air Force itself is not the problem; I MUST believe that. It’s just being used and highjacked by those few but influential officers who believe mixing religious zeal and the profession of arms is a good idea. Those who’s “Great Commission” is not to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, but to Convert and Conquer on behalf of their particular version of God.
I am not Anti Christian
I grew up in an evangelical church, my parents whom I love and respect and admire, are Born Again Christians. Before and after I entered the Air Force I have met officers who are Born Again, at work or at my family church. I know evangelicals that are strong in their faith, and fervently believe in all the modern protestant “Salvation Issues.” Those good people, my friends and family, would never want religion and government mixing together in such a direct and blatant way. The power of government can corrupt religions as easily as it can corrupt people. Most evangelicals do not want their faith entangled with the government, neither did our founding fathers, who saw the corruption of a blended church and state first hand. When that happens, people who are attracted to power become attracted to the church. For the Air Force, this comes in the form of officers who might enjoy earning prestige among the officer corps by just pretending to pray and believe. Their presence weakens the Air Force, and hurts whatever congregation they exploit to claw their way to the top. Evangelicals, as a whole, are not the problem. It is those who are deliberately plotting to convert the Air Force to their Version of Christianity; by planting proselytizing material in the textbooks of AETC, pamphlets in break rooms, and plan mandatory chapel events in units across the DoD. They violate our Constitution, marginalize Air Force members, and if left unchecked, could usher in a time where being their type of Christian will determine whether or not you may serve your country.
This is not the first time, just the most blatant.
I have felt this way before, many times. Perhaps not this intensely, because its’ never been so blatant. The instruction to go to chapel was just the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve wanted to tell someone about these abuses. Someone who would care. I think I’ve found that person now in Mikey Weinstein. So here goes…
I personally have been told by a Major, two Lt Colonels and numerous CGOs, that it would be good for my career to be obviously Christian. One Lt Col. recommended I should play Christian Contemporary music in my office loud enough for people to hear – as he was doing at that very moment – when I arrived at my first duty location as a young impressionable 2nd LT. At the time, I did not realize how unprofessional that tact was; but it did make me feel insecure and under religious scrutiny. My personal faith was just beginning to mature at the age of 23. I learned that if I publicly deviated from that particular brand of Christianity he was espousing, I would earn myself an “outsider” status in the eyes of the Lt Col, my new boss. I went home that evening and told my wife “It looks like we need to start attending chapel.” Our need was not spiritual, it was professional.
Sure enough, that Sunday the vice wing commander, my group commander, and my functional was there, as well as all the “golden boys” – favored young officers who routinely take turns winning quarterly awards and being awesome. Besides a few stray personnel on temporary assignment (basically people on business trips), the entire congregation had a similar composition to a senior staff meeting; but with wives. I distinctly remember the sermon. The chaplain preached about the Great Commission and how it’s similar to our commission and officers. We are warriors for our country, but first and foremost we are warriors for Christ.
Growing up evangelical, I understood the concept of prioritizing loyalties in your life; with the Ultimate Loyalty being to God. But this seemed to be taking it an extra step – by combining the Ultimate Loyalty doctrine and the Great Commission together, the chaplain was using only the thinnest veil to cover the ultimate message – our responsibility to convert people to Christianity is a commission by God which superseded our commission by the mere U.S President, and any rules against proselytizing the DoD might have.
After the sermon, a lot of the senior leaders came up to me and welcomed me to their Wing, and the congregation. They congratulated me, the young 2nd Lieutenant (the lowest ranking of all officers), on “starting my career on the right path.” Without knowing anything about me, besides the fact I went to church that first Sunday, they asked me “so what do you want to do?” or said “call me if you need anything.” In Air Force networking, those phrases, especially when said to a subordinate from a superior, are code for a promise of special favors, preferences in assignments, and above average good will.
I felt like I had got on a run-away train, or unwittingly joined a gang. I wanted the full-birds (high-ranking officers) and commanders to like me, of course! But I wanted to earn their good will from my merit, not because I was good at pretending to be their type of Christian. After attending a few more months and volunteering for a few chapel events, I slowly worked my way out of that system. I had not been in the Air Force long enough to know how wrong that system was, I just knew it didn’t feel right.
At this point, I have been in long enough to know that sort of pressure is wrong, and harmful to the force. I found myself noticing things that a few years ago would have just soaked in subliminally.
When transferring to a new unit, I have found it is common to have people loudly talk at work about going to church, or an interesting sermon they heard; and then glance at me, seeing if I will join in on the conversation – as if to test whether I will pick up on the non-so-secret Christian handshake. As if to determine if I am in their “In-group.” This makes for an uncomfortable work environment in the civilian world; but its downright abusive if your status as a churchgoer determines your assignments and your stratification.
(In the military, they literally stratify from best to worst, the officers in a unit –solely at the discretion of the commander. The best assignments in the Air Force only go to people who are “1 of 9” or “2 of 15” or so forth. If your commander doesn’t think people like you should get ahead in the Air Force, he’ll be sure to stratify you low)
Out of all the TVs playing ambient in the background of Air Force break or waiting rooms, on in three is playing the Christian Broadcast Network, or some other proselytizing programming. When I was temporarily assigned to (name withheld) Air Force Base I learned the base cable has no less than THREE separate fundamentalist Christian stations broadcasting to our Airmen 24/7. The default channel in lodging is one of those channels. Thus every time an Airman stays in base lodging and turns on the TV; they get a does of fundamentalism before they can turn the channel!
When my fellow Company Grade Officers (CGOs) and our even higher-ranking leaders begin proselytizing, it creates an uneasy pressure for me; a seasoned CGO. I can’t imagine the pressure a young Airman, straight out of high school, might feel upon being exposed to such fervency.
I don’t know what will happen, if anything. But at least at this point I can stop losing sleep over not speaking out. Thanks for reading.
(USAF Officer’s name, rank, AFSC, military unit and military installation withheld)
USAF Officer — Writer of the email, below,
Thank you. Thank you for your service and true patriotism, courage and wisdom, handling the situation as you are doing. Your email covers concrete details along with the less concrete, harder to capture, personal implications, and those implications are, indeed, the more significant (though they are not believable without the concrete evidence you provide).
I want you to know how well you told my story, by telling yours — far better than I ever could. I entered active duty as a major, already almost 50 years old, with an age waiver, only to find my commander had stirred up this business months before I arrived — immediately after he arrived. He had me ousted in one year. He must have seen my file before arrival, talked to those at COT, where I trained on entrance to active duty, to see how unbendingly ethical I am, and realized well before I arrived that how he could make strategic use of me, since he wouldn’t be able to convert me. And, he did just that.
There is evidence to suggest 2003 and/or 2004 was/were critical years. It was during that time that an AF committee inside the Pentagon decided to require supervising officers to evaluate their subordinates’ “spiritual fitness” before writing annual evaluations for those subordinates. My commander made the motion, which passed immediately, and the record was found on the internet. I am no longer able to find that record, though Mikey could use it. Perhaps you can?
And, beware: I learned, after separation, that my chain of command (i.e., Commander and his willing puppets), recognized their actions against myself and my career put me in a high risk category for suicide — right when the USAF initiated Wingman Day. What else was in writing? Clear evidence that they intended to sit back and watch. That is, the absence of any intent to do anything about it. I have several times told Mikey, I believe the increasing suicides are due to disillusionment, entrapment, and helplessness on the parts of service members who are told they are not the right religion, shown that they and their families are seen as bad in the eyes of all — especially God and Jesus, and proselytized to by the OIG, MEO, and any other military office they might turn to for help, making matters worse. Please, do not let this destructive force affect you or your family. Whatever you can do to protect those around you who are marginalized, as well, do with as much safety as you can for yourself. You must protect you, or you won’t be there to protect anyone else, either.
Once, again, I thank you for your service.