So, what do you think happens when the Chief of Staff of the Air Force issues an important memorandum to the whole Air Force? If you guessed that it gets distributed to the whole Air Force, you would, of course, be correct. And that's exactly what happened earlier this month when General Norton Schwartz, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, issued his watershed edict on "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion." This memorandum properly made its way down the chains of command at Air Force Bases everywhere, with one notable exception -- the Air Force Academy, where the top leadership have apparently decided to keep it to themselves.
General Schwartz's memorandum came on the heels of the recent revelation by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) that a mandatory part of the Air Force's nuclear missile launch officer "ethics" training was a Christian theological presentation, nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech" by some nuclear missile officers. Things moved fast once the content of this training was exposed by Truthout at the end of July. Not only did the Air Force immediately suspend the "Jesus Loves Nukes" training, but a review of all of the Air Force's so-called "ethics" training, much of which is chock full of inappropriate and unconstitutional religious content, was initiated.
This memorandum, the clearest blanket statement of Air Force policy on religious activity ever issued, from the boss of every member of the Air Force, from cadets to generals, stated in no uncertain terms that no commander or supervisor can promote, or even give the appearance of promoting, their personal religious beliefs to any subordinate personnel.
As expected, MRFF quickly began receiving a slew of emails from personnel all over the Air Force as they read General Schwartz's words, both expressing their elation and congratulating MRFF on being the catalyst for what is being lauded as a huge turning point in the quest for unconditional religious freedom in the military. But then, the bubble burst. Emails began coming in from the Air Force Academy, from both cadets and staff, wondering why they hadn't heard anything about this incredibly important edict from the Chief of Staff until they read about it from sources outside of the Academy, like the September 16 article from the Air Force Times.
Well, it seems that the leadership at the Academy, namely the Academy's Superintendent, Lieutenant General Mike Gould, and the Dean of Faculty, Brigadier General Dana Born, decided to keep General Schwartz's pronouncement to themselves and a small group of senior officers, and not let it go beyond their weekly staff meeting. Wouldn't want all those pesky underlings to know that their Chief of Staff had just put into writing a definitive policy that would stop so many of the religion problems plaguing the Academy, now would we, Generals Gould and Born?
So, how are the staff and cadets at the Academy reacting to the withholding of General Schwartz's memorandum? Well, with a combination of disbelief and nausea. As one staff member emailed to MRFF:
"This just makes me sick to my stomach. Absolutely no mention of Gen Schwartz's letter of religious neutrality. You would think that something as significant as this letter would make it down to all personnel at USAFA, especially the cadets. Hasn't been a single peep from the people behind the curtain. Nothing to see here!"
Even a cadet, who knew what the big "ALMAJCOM-FOA-DRU/CC" at the top of the memorandum meant -- that all Major Commands and the commanders of every Field Operating Agency and Direct Reporting Unit should have gotten this thing -- wrote to MRFF, asking:
"Wasn't the letter supposed to be distributed to anyone in the Air Force with commander in their job title? Which Air Officer in COMMANDING or Squadron COMMANDER, even the Flight COMMANDERS have seen this? Pretty sure that would be none of them...such a sad problem here."
What struck others was the sheer irony that General Schwartz's memorandum wasn't sent out to the entire Academy via its "Dist P" mailing list, the same base wide email distribution list that has been used to distribute exactly the kind of religious announcements from commanders that the memorandum specifically says commanders can't send out.
As one Academy official put it:
"[S]o far the Academy leadership has not sent an electronic copy of the letter in the type of blanket, base-wide e-mail (called 'Dist P') that is used to announce prayer luncheons and chaplains programs or the need for volunteers at a wild cow-milking competition. Apparently, wild cow-milking is more important than CSAF guidance here."
Yes, this email, clearly a matter of far greater import than an edict from the Chief of Staff on what is one of the most contentious issues at the Academy, recently went out to the entire Academy via the "Dist P" mailing list.
To: Dist P
Subject: 2011 Wild Cow Milking (WCM) schedule so far
Due to last minute cancellations with the 2 USAFA cow-milking teams we (USAFA) are in dire need of replacements. If you are interested, see attachments and get back with me soon. Event is Saturday, 16 July 2011.
And here's what didn't didn't make the cut:
MEMORANDUM FOR ALMAJCOM-FOA-DRU/CC
FROM: HQ USAF/CC
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670
SUBJECT: Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion
Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual's free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit's morale, good order, and discipline.
Chaplain Corps programs, including activities such as religious studies, faith sharing, and prayer meetings, are vital to commanders' support of individual Airmen's needs and provide opportunities for the free exercise of religion. Although commanders are responsible for these programs they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.
Our chaplains are trained to provide advice to leadership on matters related to the free exercise of religion and to help commanders care for all of their people, regardless of their beliefs. If you have concerns involving the preservation of government neutrality regarding religious beliefs, consult with your chaplain and staff judge advocate before you act.
NORTON A. SCHWARTZ
Chief of Staff
Is it any wonder that cadets and staff at the Air Force Academy have lost all faith (no pun intended) in the Academy's leadership?
More:Religion And The Military Military Religious Freedom Foundation First Amendment Military Air Force Academy
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more