Today's United States Air Force is shockingly riddled with calculated, deliberate and willful ignorance as to what its actual mission is.
Case in point: the constant, strident attempts by airmen to "free range" proselytize the exclusivist dominance of the evangelical Christian fundamentalist faith. This author has long been hammering away at what clearly represents a bona fide national security crisis extant throughout the entirety of the United States Air Force in particular and the U.S. Armed Forces as a whole, whereby unchecked evangelizing activity is carried out on Uncle Sam's time and the taxpayer's dime. These rogue armed forces personnel are now legion in number. They, as well as senior USAF leadership, are brazenly unwilling to restrain their unbridled compulsion to use every opportunity under the sun to arrogantly and imperiously boast of the primacy of their personal "walk with God" and to promote nonsecular, theocratic views as opposed to Constitutional ones. Indeed, their prime directive is to feed the fires of sectarian Christian supremacy and domination in the US military.
All in the disingenuous and dishonest name of "but I have my freedom of religion too." While they DO have their freedoms, the catastrophe is that they believe that their freedom to proselytize their personal favorite flavor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ trumps everyone else's freedom in the Air Force not to have to be subjected to such indignities, especially by their military superiors.
Vance Air Force Base, a little over an hour from Oklahoma City, is the scene of one such recent felony against church-state separation. Sixteen USAF airmen (11 of them practicing Christians) have reached out to MRFF requesting its intercession in the sordid matter, which is described below. The home of the 71st Flying Training Wing (FTW) under the command of Colonel Clark Quinn, Vance AFB is a key facility in preparing the pilots who serve in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force. As such, athleticism is endorsed there as it is at any of the plethora of military installations where our warfighters are reared and matriculated. However, here's a thought; is an article about an officer running a triathlon the proper time, place and manner in which to preach the virtues of a militarized "Faith in God"? For the 71st FTW public affairs office, the answer is a resounding "yes", as is clear in their recent article profiling a certain fundamentalist Christian fighter pilot, Major Christina Hopper, as their favorite athlete and missionary/crusader of the month.
Enter Maj. Christina Hopper. Her official designated USAF fighter pilot call sign, naturally, is "Thumper" for "bible thumper", a name she cherishes and which she says "defined me". I kid you not, my friends. (Please see her oh-so revelatory "Christian Broadcasting Network" interview of a few years ago below right here)
She is a former F-16 pilot and current instructor pilot at Vance AFB, whose career as an active-duty aviator has spanned Operation Southern Watch (the Saddam-era no-fly zone campaign) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Thumper" is literally lionized in this Vance AFB news article and is gloriously portrayed as a model airmen, guided by the light of Christ throughout her military career.
"The overarching thing that defines all of my life is my relationship with God... It's what drives me and makes me passionate about life. The reason and the purpose behind everything I do is to glorify God and to make his name known. If that was removed from my life, I would feel that I have no purpose."
"Everything", Major Hopper? Seriously, "Thumper"? So let's get this straight, Christina - you flew 50 combat missions in Iraq to "glorify God"? Imagine how this sort of thing would be perceived by the many devout Muslims, both friend and foe, in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan... not to mention the student pilot trainees (especially YOUR student pilots, Major Hopper!) at Vance AFB. Further, Hopper's pathetic proselytizing provides just another propaganda bonanza for the insanely Internet savvy terrorists comprising the maniacal ISIS, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Taliban etc. From their evil perspectives, she is the literal Poster Child of American fundamentalist Christian military Crusaderism. You know what? It is problematic to argue, from ANY reasonable and rational perspective, that she is not such.
Last time I checked, service members swore oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic - THAT is their "reason and purpose", not the glorification of one deity or another on U.S. government time. However, while Hopper can be accused of 1st-degree religious zealotry unbecoming of a military leader, the publication of this article also implicates the top brass at Vance in the commission of vile missionary-crusader propagandizing. Hello, yet another violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12. The compelling governmental interest of ensuring optimal unit cohesion, military readiness good order, morale and discipline, health and safety is thrashed into bloody bits yet again by a proselytizing Air Force officer with the total support of her pathetically complicit chain of command. Are you listening 71st Fighter Wing Commander Colonel Quinn?
But really, Vance AFB is just the tip of the fundamentalist Christian iceberg in the Department of Defense.
Just a few weeks ago, the group I lead, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, the only civil rights organization solely driven towards safeguarding the separation of church and state for all faith traditions or no faith in the U.S. military) blew the lid off of a situation at Cannon AFB in Clovis, New Mexico. It was there at Cannon AFB where senior USAF leaders were caught last month hammering their subordinates with blanketed, base-wide, "Gospel Explosion, spread the word and see you there"-themed emails. We at MRFF have discovered similar incidents for over a decade at innumerable USAF and other DoD installations across the globe. Meanwhile at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, CO, Academy cadets, faculty and staff are positively inundated in Christian fundamentalist zealotry, sometimes overt but always perniciously ambient. Additional examples (in the tens of thousands) are too numerous to recount in this Op Ed alone.
Where does this unconstitutional zealotry emanate from? Let's take a look at what's currently being offered to servicemembers in terms of on-base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) activities. If the gospel is your forte, you might innocently assume that a good fit would be the bible study classes led by Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF), a malignant and malevolent, Christian fundamentalist, parachurch military ministry. Its vast membership is comprised of literally multiple thousands of military officials up and down the chains of command, ranging from cadets to leading officers and generals. OCF's most recent past mission statement was to produce, get this, "Christian officers exercising biblical leadership to raise up a godly military". OCF"s most recent former goals were to provide for "a spiritually transformed U.S. military with Ambassadors for Christ IN UNIFORM empowered by the Holy Spirit." Nice, huh? OCF relatively recently ditched that wretched mission phrase and those goal statements (though they still pop up now and again) but only after MRFF hammered them ceaselessly in the media about it for years. But what is OCF's currently proclaimed mission? In their own words at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, it is "to build up godly spiritual leaders for the military." You might be asking - "spiritual leaders as in chaplains?"
Let's take a closer look at that OCF Chapter at Seymour Johnson, shall we? That chapter is led by Captain Austin Krohn. According to Krohn, their OCF bible study group includes F-15E, KC-135, and next-generation Long Range Strike bomber crewmembers in addition to various other personnel (including chaplains).
Now, Krohn isn't a chaplain - he's a member of the 336th Fighter Squadron, a 2010 USAFA graduate (of course), and quite likely an F-15 pilot himself. He's also a fervent evangelical Christian and self-confessed "zealot" based on an article he wrote for OCF. In his own words,
"How do I lead in a manner worthy of Christ? How can I be a godly witness to these young men and women who must learn to obey and respect me?" (umm, with boundless emphasis there, Capt. Krohn, on the "...young men and women who MUST learn to obey and respect me?...sigh, just THINK about THAT from the perspective of his unfortunate and defenseless subordinates!)
"For me, zealotry almost always conjures up images of freedom fighters throughout history: the Jewish zealots who opposed Rome, the Scottish rebels who opposed Edward I under William Wallace, or our own revolutionaries who fought for the independence of America...
...if there is anything else the Lord has shown me, the battle to become a godly leader is one in which the victor is one of the most blessed in warfare."
There you have it, folks: blessed are those who are the most victorious warfare killers. This crusader holy warrior ideology is being espoused in the most technologically advanced service branch (USAF) of the most lethal killing apparatus ever devised in the history of humankind; the U.S. Military. If even a moderate follower of Islam spoke the above words, the speaker would immediately be placed under Homeland Security surveillance or perhaps even slotted for placement on an intelligence agency extraordinary rendition/kill list. However, those words were spoken by our very own air crusaders, those American holy warriors who are "bombing for Jesus" whilst under the dizzying spell of horrific religious extremist delusions. Further, their fundamentalist Christian, religious training camps and leadership, their "dominionist Christian madrassas" and "Jesus jihadis" so to speak, are key in the consolidation of this fanatical, swiftly growing mainstream presence of religious extremism in the U.S. armed forces.
Such is the ugly reality of the fundamentalist Christian coup that is unfolding across the United States military.
What is to be done? Punishing the brazenly imperious and arrogant offenders and their chain-of-command enablers is a damn good first step.
Tragically, one that has yet to see the light of day in the U.S. Air Force.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra" Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side" (2006, St. Martin's Press) and "No Snowflake in an Avalanche" (2012, Vireo).