Wanting to Court Martial The Officer?

Hey Mikey.
You gotta be kidding with wanting to court martial the officer who gave a speech on May 7th thanking God.
You people disgust ME.  What’s your military background? I bet not one day of service.
Don’t  listen to speeches like this if it bothers you just like I ignore you morons who are only in these organizations because you are losers and can’t get a real job.
This really is your best shot at making the world a little better place as you pass through.  REALLY?
(name withheld)

Hi (name withheld) –
Thanks for writing to the MRFF.  I say “thanks” not for the nastiness and name-calling in your email, but because I appreciate the opportunity to clear up several areas where you make bad assumptions or have received bad information.
Let’s tackle your biggest bad assumption first — the military bona fides of MRFF supporters.
I’m a USAF veteran and USAF Academy graduate (’85), and now a senior executive with a US-based, global chemical logistics company.  You may be surprised to learn that I’m also a lifelong, committed, and active Christian, but more about that in a bit.
Our founder and President, Mikey Weinstein, has a background that is tremendously more impressive than my own. He is 1977 Honor Graduate of the USAF Academy and former USAF JAG.   Mikey also spent over three years working in, and for, the West Wing of the Reagan Administration as legal counsel in the White House. In his final position there, Mikey was named the Committee Management Officer of the much-publicized Iran-Contra Investigation in his capacity as Assistant General Counsel of The White House Office of Administration, Executive Office of the President of the United States. Mikey has held numerous positions in corporate America as a senior executive businessman and attorney.
The Board of Advisors of the MRFF is comprised of many people with distinguished military backgrounds, including:
Edie Disler – PhD, Lt Col (Ret), is a 25 year veteran of the Air Force who served as an ICBM crewmember, an Executive Support Officer to the Secretary of Defense, a conventional arms control inspector, a speechwriter, and USAFA faculty professor.
Glen Doherty (IN MEMORIAM) – A highly-decorated combat veteran, this former Navy SEAL spent four years conducting security and intelligence operations in high threat regions including Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Glen was killed in an armed assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Glen lived and died believing in the righteous cause of religious tolerance and dialogue among all peoples and faiths around the globe.
Robert S. Dotson – Retired brigadier general. Author of the published novel, The Light on the Star.
Robert T. Herres (Emeritus) – A Naval Academy graduate with a 36 year career in the United States Air Force, he also served a three-year assignment as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first to hold that position. (December 1, 1932 – July 24, 2008)
George Reed – A faculty member in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego. Before joining the faculty in 2007 he served for 27 years as a military police officer including six as the Director of of Command and and Leadership Studies at the U.S. Army War College.
A.A. “Tony” Verrengia – A retired Air Force Brigadier General, Tony was a Master Navigator that served in air transport operations positions for many years.
John Whiteside – Whiteside is one of only a few military aviators to possess both Senior Command Air Force wings and aircraft carrier qualified Naval Aviator wings, in addition to having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in combat during Operation Desert Storm.
Lawrence Wilkerson – The Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. His last position in government was as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff (2002-05).
As to our position on the recent issue with Maj Gen Olson, I’d suggest that you are off-base there, as well.  First, you should know that the MRFF is neither anti-God nor anti-religion.  Many, in fact the majority, of MRFF supporters and clients are people faith, including me (as I’ve already mentioned).  We do not oppose any particular religion beliefs.  Second, you should know that we fully support Maj Gen Olson’s right to his religious beliefs, as well as his right to express those beliefs in an appropriate time, place, and manner.
Our mission as an organization is to ensure that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Part of that focus is to expect that all military leaders, especially those at the most senior level, are cognizant of their professional obligations and that they act appropriately.
So if the above points are true (which they are), then why have we objected so strongly to Gen Olson’s speech?
The key issue with Maj Gen Olson’s participation in the NDP Task Force event is that he did it in an inappropriate manner, one which I believe is a pretty obvious violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 which governs the actions of all USAF leaders in this area.  It may help to read the specific guidance in that AFI:
“2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause – Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.”
There are two important things to take away from that paragraph.  First, military leaders do not possess an unfettered right to free expression of their religious beliefs at any time, in any place, or in any manner.  So, all of the commentary that is flying about claiming that Maj Gen Olson has an absolute First Amendment right to do so is uninformed and incorrect.
Second, the final sentence of Section 2.12 is critically important.  Please take a moment to read that sentence, then reflect upon the particulars of the General’s speech at the NDP Task Force event
— He appeared in full uniform
— He did not make any statement to suggest that he was speaking strictly as an individual and not as a USAF leader
— Most seriously, at the end of his speech he expressed a belief that the Defense Department, and all US troops, all should “depend on Christ”     (as an aside… how do you think that went over with the many non-Christians in Maj Gen Olson’s chain of command?)
Put it all together, and he was over the line that is plainly described in AFI 1-1 for all USAF leaders.
So again, the issue is not that he spoke about his faith — it’s that he did so in a manner that conflated his personal views with his official position, and that was inappropriate.  Most of the static that we’re hearing in emails, and that I’m seeing on websites where this issue is being discussed, is driven by the misconception that the MRFF is opposed to Olson’ s Christian beliefs.  That is NOT the case.  As a Christian and former USAF officer myself, I understand very well the sentiment that he expressed in his speech — but again, the specific content of what he shared is not the issue.
Personally, I’m glad that Maj Gen Olson has such strong, heartfelt beliefs.  But I’m sad that he didn’t take the time to consider how the manner in which he appeared at this event might be construed, and that he didn’t take more care to ensure a clear delineation between his personal religious beliefs and his professional obligations.
Thanks again for writing.
Mike Challman

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