On October 19, 2015, a MRFF client forwarded an email they received from the Dover AFB’s Command Secretary/Chief Administrative Assistant to the commanding officer of the 436th Force Support Squadron, Lt. Col. Don Tasker. In this email, Ms. Valencia M. Branch (GS-05) used her government position under Lt. Col. Tasker’s command to openly and willfully proselytize the evangelical Christian faith by endorsing and soliciting participation in the Central DelMar Operation Christmas Child being conducted at the Calvary Christian Academy. Operation Christmas Child, as many recall, is the proselytizing effort by the virulently Islamophobic Franklin Graham aimed at impoverished children around the world under the guise of giving them gifts. Ms. Branch’s email contained the following event description:
“Our goal is to fill 5,000+ shoe boxes to be sent around the world as a way to show children in desperate situations that God loves and values them. Many of these children have never received a gift before. Many have never heard of God’s incredible free Gift of Salvation through His Son. But a simple gift, a shoebox packed and prayed for by you could give a child hope and eternal security. Come, partner with us and CCA, be a ‘missionary’ filling shoebox gifts and praying over them with us.”
Bryant Jordan of Military.com reported on October 19, 2015 that Ms. Branch expressed surprise at the proselytizing language of the message she forwarded. She also said she did not know where the email originated and that old emails had been deleted for space reasons. In her article for the Huffington Post, MRFF’s Senior Research Director Chris Rodda expressed understandable skepticism regarding Ms. Branch’s “surprise”:
And then there’s the fact that one of the fourteen airmen at Dover Air Force Base who have come to MRFF for help in putting a stop to your regulation-violating use of official email to promote things like this “GREAT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY!!!!!!” told Military.com that the oh so “surprised” Ms. Branch has “sent out similar, Christian-oriented communications in the past and has also put ‘inappropriate’ religious literature on squadron member’s desks.” According to that airman, “This has been going on for a while” and “The problem is she’s a gatekeeper to the commander, and she’s constantly invoking this stuff.”
MRFF President and Founder Mikey Weinstein sent a demand letter to Lt. Col. Tasker on behalf of 14 U.S. Air Force members serving directly under Lt. Col. Tasker’s command. Within a few short hours Lt. Col. Tasker issued an email completely disavowing Ms. Branch’s email by stating “I want to be absolutely clear that the email in question was not sent at my direction and is not endorsed in any way by me or any level of command.” In this email, Lt. Col. Tasker further explained his expectations of compliance of email messages in the future with all regulations pertaining to the use of government email to announce non-Federal events.