As late as three days ago, September 26, the leadership at the U.S. Air Force Academy was still unwilling to distribute a watershed memorandum issued by Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz on "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion." Coming 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, General Schwartz's memorandum -- an edict that stated in no uncertain terms that no commander or other leader in the Air Force can promote, or even give the appearance of promoting, their personal religious beliefs to any subordinate personnel -- was received by all Air Force commands on or around September 13.
General Schwartz's memorandum (the full text of which can be found in my previous post) quickly made its way down through the ranks at bases throughout the Air Force, as one would expect an important statement of policy from the Chief of Staff would. One notable exception, however, was the Air Force Academy, where the top leadership did not distribute it to either cadets or staff, but kept it confined to a small group of senior officers at a staff meeting.
When Academy cadets and staff started seeing General Schwartz's memorandum in other places, like the September 16 article from the Air Force Times, many started contacting MRFF, disgusted and angry that something this important had not been immediately distributed to everyone at the Academy.
One cadet wrote to MRFF reporting that when he asked if he could post the Chief of Staff's memorandum on a bulletin board at the Academy, the response he got was, "Don't go there. Who's side are you on?" Apparently, wanting to post a memorandum from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force now means you're on the "wrong side" at the Air Force Academy. Like most Academy cadets and staff who have contacted MRFF about the Academy's failure to distribute the memorandum, this cadet first contacted a friend at another Air Force Base to find out what other bases had done with it. This cadet, who identified himself as a Baptist in his email, has now become a MRFF client, and he's not alone. In fact, the number of MRFF's clients at the Academy jumped from 297 to 341 in the week and a half between the Air Force Times article and this Wednesday, when the Academy finally decided to distribute the memorandum, weeks after it was issued. (This cadet's email, along with emails from two other cadets, are included at the end of this post. I urge everyone to please read these emails, which describe the situation at the Academy far better than anything I could ever write.)
So, why the sudden change of heart on the part of the Academy leadership? Why did they finally decide to distribute General Schwartz's memorandum after weeks of withholding it? Well, maybe it was this nice big billboard, containing the entire text of the memorandum, put up by MRFF on Tuesday at a very busy intersection in Colorado Springs, the home of the Air Force Academy.
Of course, the Air Force Academy is doing its best to deny that the billboard had anything to do with its sudden decision to distribute the memorandum right after the billboard went up. But, in doing so, Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan has succeeded only in contradicting himself to a point where nobody could possibly believe the version of the story he's putting out.
Lt. Col. Bryan said to the Colorado Springs Independent, "I don't know why it's such an issue. Has every cadet seen this? Probably not. Has every permanent party [faculty and staff] seen this? Probably not. That memo wasn't written for the academy."
OK, so Lt. Col. Bryan is saying that the memorandum doesn't apply to the Academy. That's his reason for it not being distributed at the Academy.
But wait! Lt. Col Bryan also told the Independent that Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould had directed the handful of officers at their staff meeting weeks earlier to distribute the memorandum to all staff and cadets, saying that at this staff meeting Lt. Gen. Gould "passed out some copies of the CSAF memo and discussed its message with those senior USAFA commanders and directors -- directing them to ensure this message got out to permanent party, staff and cadets, here." Huh? If the memorandum wasn't meant to apply to the Academy, as Lt. Col Bryan claims, then why would the Academy Superintendent have allegedly directed it to be distributed to everyone at the Academy, as Lt. Col Bryan also claims?
So, which is it? Was the memorandum only intended for Vandenberg Air Force Base, the base where the "Jesus Loves Nukes" nuclear missile training was exposed, as Lt. Col. Bryan also told the Independent, or did it also apply to the Air Force Academy. Well, that's not hard question to answer, and Lt. Col. Bryan, as spokesman for the Academy, should have had no problem figuring this out. Besides the obvious -- why would the Chief of Staff send a memorandum to all bases if it was only meant to apply to one particular base -- the memorandum was very clearly addressed in big capital letters right at the top to "ALMAJCOM-FOA-DRU/CC." That string of acronyms means all Major Commands and every Field Operating Agency and Direct Reporting Unit, as Lt.. Col. Bryan would know. What is the Air Force Academy? Well, it's a Direct Reporting Unit, as Lt. Col. Bryan would also know. Yet he is now trying to get away with saying that the memorandum didn't apply to the Academy!
(As I've been writing this piece, the Independent posted the following update to its article: "Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan has called to tell us he misspoke: Bryan now says he doesn't know specifically the impetus for Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz's letter, but that the academy fully understands the message it contains." So now Lt. Col. Bryan is saying that the "Jesus Loves Nukes" missle officer training wasn't what led to General Schwartz's "Religious Neutrality" memorandum? I give up. I'm not even going to try to sort out any more of this guy's confusingly conflicting statements.)
So, the only question that remains is this: Was the Air Force Academy really planning to distribute the Chief of Staff's "Religious Neutrality" edict to its staff and cadets all along, or was it the posting of it on the billboard in their own backyard that forced their hand? Well, it is mighty coincidental that the memorandum was suddenly distributed immediately after the billboard went up, after being withheld for weeks. But, the accompanying cover letter from Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, sent to cadets along with the memorandum, was dated September 19, which was before the billboard went up. Why would Brig. Gen. Clark have prepared this letter on September 19 if he wasn't planning to distribute the memorandum?
Well, two things would account for that. September 19 (a Monday) was the first working day after the Air Force Times article came out (a Friday), and cadets and staff were starting to question why they had heard nothing of this memorandum until reading about it in the Air Force Times article. And it was also the day that MRFF's founder and president Mikey Weinstein, after a weekend of hearing from countless Academy cadets and staff who were disgusted with the Academy's leadership for not distributing the memorandum, sent a strongly worded warning to the Academy Superintendent, demanding that it be immediately distributed. Weinstein didn't indicate in this warning exactly what MRFF was planning to do if the memorandum wasn't distributed, but the Academy knows MRFF well enough by now to have been worried enough to have something prepared just in case their hand was forced and they did end up having to distribute it. And it appears that the billboard was what did it. Nothing else could explain why Brig. Gen. Clark's held onto his letter, dated September 19, and the memorandum, until September 28, the day after the billboard went up.
Of course the Academy will certainly deny that one thing had anything to do with the other, but the many Academy cadets and staff members who have emailed MRFF since finally receiving the memorandum are all attributing this completely out of the blue turnaround by the Academy's leadership to the billboard, and aren't buying any other excuses or explanations. And neither is MRFF, as Mikey Weinstein wrote in the following statement he issued as the calls and emails started flooding in on Wednesday morning from Academy cadets who had at long last received the Chief of Staff's memorandum.
"Earlier this morning, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was notified by many of its now 341 Air Force Academy clients, that the Commandant of Cadets, Brigadier General Richard Clark, had sent out to all members of the Academy's Cadet Wing a cover letter emphasizing the import of Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz's Sept. 1, 2011 watershed directive of 'Religious Neutrality.' Academy Commandant Clark's cover letter had Gen. Schwartz's letter appended thereto. This mass distribution by the Air Force Academy Commandant is a true victory for the Constitution. It is also a sad lesson to contemplate in that, but for MRFF's plastering of Gen. Schwartz's edict on a giant billboard in a busy area of Colorado Springs just the day before, Commandant Clark's distribution of Gen. Schwartz's directive would NEVER have happened.
"I am certain that the Air Force Academy will fall all over itself denying that the MRFF billboard had ANYTHING to do with this morning's sudden mass distribution to the Cadet Wing of Gen. Schwartz's ground-breaking 'Religious Neutrality' edict. If anyone is either naive or stupid enough to believe THAT 'coincidence,' then they would immediately be qualified to replace Academy Superintendent Michael Gould who, apparently, has STILL not yet distributed the Chief of Staff's directive to either the thousands of airmen who comprise the Academy's 10th Air Base Wing or the faculty at the Academy.
"We note, in closing, that it was NOT Lt. Gen. Gould himself who distributed Gen. Schwartz's directive, and that the person who did distribute it, Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, dated his cover letter as 'Sept. 19, 2011,' some 10 days ago, even though it only went out today. Interesting mystery there? Maybe not. As recently as yesterday, the Academy was responding to press inquiries about the MRFF billboard by saying that the Academy didn't have to distribute Gen. Schwartz's memo because 'it was never mandated' to be done. Meanwhile, MRFF will enthusiastically celebrate this clear victory for our hundreds of Air Force Academy clients. We will await all other Academy personnel being likewise in swift receipt of Gen. Schwartz's 'Religious Neutrality' edict. How much longer will Lt. Gen. Gould make them all wait? I don't know, but right now I'm going to go have a celebratory beer because, as Sammy Davis, Jr. said, alcohol gives you infinite patience for stupidity."
(As of this writing, the memorandum has still not been distributed to Academy's faculty and 10th Air Base Wing.)
What follow are three of the many emails that MRFF has received from Academy cadets, the first from September 25, three days before the Academy finally distributed the Chief of Staff's memorandum; the second from September 28, the day the memorandum was distributed; and the third this morning, September 29, the day after the memorandum was distributed.
DATE: SUNDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER 2011
SUBJECT: USAF CHIEF OF STAFF GENERAL NORTON SCHWARTZ'S MEMO ON RELIGIOUS NEUTRALITY
Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF, my name is (USAF Academy cadets's name, cadet rank and title withheld). I became an official client of MRFF just a day ago after personally witnessing the appalling reaction of my USAFA Cadet chain of command and USAFA Officer chain of command to Gen. Schwartz's awesome memo dated 1 Sept. 11 on "Religious Neutrality." I called Mr. Weinstein to verify the truth and existence of Gen. Schwartz's memo and we spoke for a few minutes. I couldn't believe it was actually him himself when he answered my call. I told this to other cadets and they called him too. He answered the phone call each time himself. He told us that the memo from Gen. Schwartz was very real and did exist.
For the record, I am a Christian (Protestant/Baptist) and occasionally attend worship services here at the Air Force Academy or elsewhere downtown. I only found out about Gen Schwartz's memo because I saw and heard an officer and 3 other cadets saying some very bad things about you and General Schwartz's memo, Mr. Weinstein, in the Fairchild Hall academic building at the end of last week. I was really shocked by the messed up things they said about you and the MRFF in particular, very personal and hateful. I googled as Mr. Weinstein suggested and had no problem finding out about Gen. Schwartz's memo from some websites. Including primarily of course MRFF's, but others like Air Force Times and the C. Springs Independent and the story by Chris Rodda on Alternet. The "cow milking" thing was pretty unbelievable to me and many of my classmates as all of this sad situation is here. Noone would believe it. But we do now.
This weekend I "informally asked" so as not to arouse suspicion, my cadet chain of command if I could verbally brief my (USAF Academy cadet's Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld) about the Chief of Staff's memo. I also asked, in lieu of briefing my (USAF Academy cadet's Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld), if I could post General Schwartz's memo on the bulletin and message boards etc. located in my (USAF Academy cadet's Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld). I was told the following words exactly; "Don't go there. Who's side are you on"? Not knowing how to respond, and being shocked, I just said nothing. But the damage has been done and my eyes are now open to the religious bigotry of Christian bullies here at the Air Force Academy. I did not fully see it before. But I definitely do now. So do many of us. I discussed becoming a MRFF client with my mom and dad and another good friend who graduated from the Academy a few years ago. My friend (USAF Academy grad and Officer's name and rank withheld) said that his/her Wing Commander at (USAF military installation's name and location withheld) sent out General Schwartz's religious neutrality memo to all USAF personnel in his/her Wing right after receiving it. Anyways, my friend and parents all encouraged me to do become a MRFF client and I'm encouraging others to do it too. Thank you Mr Weinstein and the MRFF for giving us a place to go for help. It's clear that if you even ask for help here you are taking a bad risk.
Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF, what about an idea I have? If you wrote a letter to USAF Academy Superintendent General Gould and asked him to please send out the USAF Chief of Staff's memo on religious neutrality to USAFA cadets and staff, do you think he would agree to it? If you can do this, please tell Gen. Gould that you have heard from many cadets in the Cadet Wing who want to see the Chief of Staff's important memo being sent out by him, Gen. Gould. That way we would all know that our Academy and Cadet chains of command also see the Chief of Staff's memo as equally important. If he doesn't do it, we will all know just the opposite.
(USAF Academy cadet's name, cadet rank and title and Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld)
(Note: The cadet's references to "spire" and "cru" in this email refer to the Academy's weekly religion night, called Special Programs in Religious Education, or S.P.I.R.E., when outside parachurch military ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ, known as "cru" for "crusade," come into the Academy.)
Date: September 28, 2011
Subject: Progress at the Academy?
This morning at about 0800 I got an email saying we had new read files, which are documents that every cadet must read and then initial that they signed it. While I believe this is a good step, I'm not sure all cadets will fully read the documents and an issue such as this should be briefed where all cadets will listen. It's funny that it took you posting a billboard with the letter on it for the academy to do something about it. Do they really not think it is an issue or do they just not care? I thought I would give spire a chance, just to see how it was so I went to Cru. It was fine at first but when I didn't show up one Monday a few of the cadets made small comments saying that God would help me with my grades more than EI (Academic "Extra Instruction") will. Who says that? Seriously, I mean what are they teaching these cadets to make them think their religion and going to Spire on a Monday is going to help them more than going to get EI with a teacher. So then I stopped showing up to spire and realized just how much of a big deal this is. Yeah they try to tell us it isn't a problem but I saw firsthand how it really is a problem, and when it takes a month to send an email to us cadets from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force it shows how messed up our leadership is. I sat around for weeks wondering if any cadets would hear about this email, if our leadership would show what kind of problem was at this school and they failed...again. They covered it up just like anything else they don't want to deal with. I'm glad you were able to show the message to the community and force General Gould's hand to do the right thing. Mikey you fight everyday to make this place safe for the cadets who are pressured by the spire groups, and the cadets that attend spire.
A cadet who wouldn't feel safe here without you and what you do.
Date: September 29, 2011
Subject: It's A Jewish Thing, A Money Thing
Mr. Weinstein, my cadet roommate (cadet name and rank withheld) told me last night that one of his friends and classmates was in a class yesterday afternoon in Fairchild when another cadet in the class by the name of (cadet name and rank withheld) was telling people in the class that the only reason that Military Religious Foundation put up the billboard was to attack Christianity at the Academy. Another cadet challenged that statement and the cadet who said it responded by saying that you only put the billboard up because "It's a Jewish thing, a money thing. He's just crucifying Christ again for the same 20 pieces of silver." I'm sorry to pass this on. I am not Jewish. I am Catholic and face the same pressure to convert to being a "complete Christian" all the time. All I can say is that none of us knew anything about General Schwartz's letter until sometime on Wednesday morning which is the day after you put the sign up in the Springs. Thanks for all you do for all of us here at the Academy. If you want to hear more my class schedule is very tough today and I have alot of GR's and some papers due but my cell number is (cadet's cell number withheld). What the leadership has done with General Schwartz's letter is real messed up. We see the lies. They hate you guys here. But many of us don't.
(USAF Academy cadet's name, rank, title and Cadet Squadron withheld)