A few days ago, a tip was sent to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) research department to check out an organization called Marshall Minutes Military Ministries. MRFF has investigated a seemingly endless stream of evangelical ministries and para-church organizations operating within the military, from small Mom and Pop church groups to large scale, military-wide operations like Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry, who are well on their way to accomplishing their goal of turning our military into a force of "government-paid missionaries for Christ." Marshall Minutes, however, had escaped our attention -- until now.
Marshall Minutes is run by Michael G. Marshall of the Armed Forces Baptist Missions (AFBM), an organization on "A Worldwide Quest for the Souls of Men and Women in Uniform and their families." AFBM's primary means of evangelizing the military is "church planting," establishing churches near military bases and then opening "Military Service Centers" to help these churches "reach young, single military men and women with the Gospel of Christ." Marshall Minutes' particular "field white for the harvest" is the Milwaukee Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), where new recruits are tested and processed before being sent to basic training, and the ministry plans to "plant" a church near the Great Lakes Naval Base in late 2008 or early 2009.
Nothing seemed all that unusual about Marshall Minutes, and I was about to just add this one to our files as yet another example of the many similar military ministries that exist on or near just about every military installation, when a link on their website caught my eye -- a link to military recommendations. This link led to two letters of endorsement from military officers, recommending Michael Marshall to other commanders -- one from Lt. Col. Ronald L. Jackson, Jr. on Department of the Air Force letterhead, and one from Maj. Alan C. Shaw on Department of Defense letterhead. The letter from Maj. Shaw, written as commander of the Milwaukee MEPS in July 2007, listed among Marshall's qualifications that he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Service Command (USSC). I naturally assumed that the USSC was a U.S. military entity, but had never heard of it before, so I looked it up.
What I found is that the USSC was a private "disaster relief" organization with no official military affiliation. USSC no longer seems to be an active organization, but appears to have recently been replaced by something called the United States Operational Support Command (USOSC), another private organization with a deceptively official sounding name, founded by Michael Marshall and full of former USSC members. But it's not the misleading names of these organizations that makes them significant enough for me to be writing this piece about them. Unofficial organizations with official sounding names are a dime a dozen. Many have logos that incorporate images such as the Great Seal of the United States, and some use ".us" rather than ".com" or ".org" URLs for their websites to further the impression that they are government entities. What's different about the USOSC, and formerly the USSC, is that their members wear military uniforms and rank. This is not only deceptive. IT'S ILLEGAL!
Title 10 of the U.S. Code strictly prohibits any person who isn't a member of the armed forces from wearing "the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform, of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps" or "a uniform any part of which is similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps." There are some exceptions to this law, but none of them would apply to the USSC or USOSC. Even the members of these organizations who are former or retired military, and permitted under certain circumstances to wear the uniform of their former service, are breaking the law. Those who qualify under these exceptions can only wear the uniform of the branch they served in, and cannot, of course, wear the insignia of a higher rank than they held in the military. The USSC and USOSC use the same rank structure as the U.S. Army, but have their own commissioning and promotion qualifications under which most enlisted members seem to hold the rank of sergeant major, and colonels and generals abound. When in their Class "A" and Class "B" uniforms, those USOSC members who did serve in the military wear all the genuine military ribbons and medals they earned during their service; they get more ribbons from the USOSC; and former USSC members add their USSC ribbons. The result is a chest full of ribbons like you'd see on a real general.
Michael Marshall, listed in Maj. Alan Shaw's endorsement letter as a Lieutenant Colonel in the USSC, doesn't provide his highest real military rank in his biography, but he was an enlisted man in the Navy from 1972 to 1976. By wearing the USSC uniform, which was essentially the U.S. Army uniform, and the rank insignia of a Lieutenant Colonel, Marshall was doing nothing short of impersonating an Army officer. Even the MEPS Inspector General didn't recognize the illegality of these Army chaplain look-alikes. According to Maj. Shaw's letter of endorsement, the IG actually commended them in a report.
According to Title 18 of the U.S. Code, (Crimes and Criminal Procedures): "Whoever, in any place within the jurisdiction of the United States or in the Canal Zone, without authority, wears the uniform or a distinctive part thereof or anything similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of any of the armed forces of the United States, Public Health Service or any auxiliary of such, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both."
But has Michael Marshall or any member of the USSC or USOSC been punished? Of course not. In fact, many USSC "officers" have received the "President's Volunteer Service Award," created by George W. Bush in 2002. Volunteers who perform a certain number of hours of community service qualify for one of four levels of this award, with the highest level awarded for 4,000 hours.
As Bush clearly explained in an April 2002 speech in Bridgeport, Connecticut: "And so, in my State of the -- my State of the Union -- or state -- my speech to the nation, whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation -- I asked Americans to give 4,000 years -- 4,000 hours over the next -- the rest of your life -- of service to America. That's what I asked -- 4,000 hours."
While thousands of these awards are given out each year, organizations wanting to give the appearance of official government sanction and/or recognition often post images on their websites of the mass produced "congratulatory letter from the President of the United States" that accompanies the award.
Another link on the Marshall Minutes website leads to the website of "In PURSUIT! Ministries," an organization that sends chaplains to law enforcement agencies as well as MEPS. Featured on the In PURSUIT! website is the organization's director, Chaplain Tim Sherman, who also holds the rank of major in the USOSC. Sherman is a chaplain at the Fargo, North Dakota MEPS. A photo of Sherman with First Sergeant Rivera of the Los Angeles MEPS shows that the only discernible difference in their uniforms is the color of the name strip above the right shirt pocket, and USOSC instead of U.S. ARMY on the strip above the left pocket. New recruits passing through a MEPS, unfamiliar with various military uniforms and insignia, would have no idea that "Major" Sherman is not an Army officer, and would probably think he outranked the first sergeant and other enlisted personnel who work there.
Michael Marshall is also a chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which is an official auxiliary organization of the United States Air Force, and, according to his ministry's website, serves as an Air Force chaplain with the 347th Air Force Recruiting Squadron, on orders from Scott Air Force Base. Marshall claims this was done with a "military support authorization." How this is possible will require a bit more investigation because, according to CAP regulations, a military support authorization can be used to allow a CAP chaplain to be accommodated on an Air Force base for a ceremony or event, such as a wedding or a funeral, but would not appear be used for any kind of long-term position. According to Marshall, his "orders" came from Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Jackson, the author of his other letter of endorsement.
While the USSC did not impose a religious test on its "officers," its successor, the USOCS, does. In fact, the USOCS calls itself a ministry. All members must subscribe to the organization's Doctrinal Statement and Covenant, which, like the doctrinal statements of Marshall Minutes, the Armed Forces Baptist Missions, and In Pursuit! Ministries, includes a belief in the "Pre-Millennial return of Christ" and the "Rapture of the Church."
USOCS's Doctrinal Statement also says that "Under no circumstances will we have fellowship with those who deny the Scripture, deny the person or the work of Christ, compromisers or those who are not similar in faith." How can chaplains from this organization, with a regulation so contrary to the most basic regulations for U.S. military chaplains, be permitted to operate at U.S. military installations and facilities?
MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, former JAG, a former White House counsel under President Reagan, and former general counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot, is demanding an investigation: "I've said it before and I'll say it again, the insidious, unconstitutional infiltration of 'end times,' fundamentalist Christianity into quite literally every molecule of the U.S. armed forces will very likely require 400 court martials to even BEGIN to remedy. Thus, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is now officially demanding that those responsible within the penumbra of the Department of Defense, and there are many, including Inspectors General, for the aiding, abetting, and endorsing of USOSC proselytizers, feloniously impersonating active duty U.S. military officers and senior NCOs must be subjected immediately to trial by courts martial. Additionally, MRFF is now likewise demanding that all United States Attorneys whose jurisdictions cover localities where USOSC personnel are illegally wearing their proselytizing-enabling, intentionally confusing military 'uniforms' in blatant violation of Title 10 of the U.S. Code immediately refer these violations to the FBI for aggressive and swift investigation."