Packing a bag again for a few days away from home. At least it’s not months.
Explaining to my 4 year old that I’ll be gone for a little while. At least I’m leaving when he’s awake and I get to say bye for now.
Cancelling my leave that was scheduled for six months in advance because “we don’t have the bodies.” At least I didn’t spend any money on it and it’s not use-or-lose leave that might disappear on October 1st.
Stepping onto a plane for the 11th time in 13 days. At least I’m supposed to get some down time later this month.
Hitting my maximum allowable flight hours within a particular period and then got the waiver to just fly more. At least they’re still paying attention to the rules. At least we’re not in a situation like combat where dire and urgent need trumps the regulations for routine missions.
Flying several days for questionable reasons with little chance of accomplishing the mission. At least it was with a good crew that is in the same frustrating circumstance with me, so our individual miseries have great company.
Landing each day with enough time to get home, sleep, and go do it again the next day. At least the schedule changed so I usually see my kids’ faces for a few minutes before they go to bed or before I leave for work.
At least I am coming home each day (usually). At least I am not in a combat zone, threatened in the air or hunkered down on the ground. At least my family is well taken care of, and at least my wife is unquestioningly supportive and undeservedly patient.
I often joke that “I love my job” when there are reasons to complain. At least there are parts of it that I really do love.
Not all our servicemembers can say the same. Not all of them can claim the “at leasts” that I can. My heartfelt thanks to my brothers and sisters in arms in crappier places working longer hours doing harder jobs in worse conditions. Much appreciation also to the family members, friends, and loved ones who provide that support to the men and women wearing America’s various uniforms. You all make me proud.
I raised my right hand and swore an oath of my own free will. At least I serve a nation that–while admittedly imperfect–rewards honorable service in support of lofty ideals instead of demanding subservience to the whims of a dictator or ideology.
An atheist Airman was denied the right to reenlist in the United States Air Force recently. It’s been my experience that everyone had the option to say the phrase if desired, or omit the phrase if desired. But that changed late last year.
The Air Force cites US law that supersedes its previous guidance on the matter as the reason for a change in Oct 2013 that took out the option to say – or not say – “so help me God.” Title 10 Section 502 covers the oath of enlistment, and it makes no provision for omitting the phrase in question. So the Air Force has a justifiable position for its argument, which boils down to “We have to follow the law. If the law needs to be changed, then Congress has to change Title 10 Section 502 so that we can then change our regulations which fall under it.”
My experience has been that most people say it or omit it as applicable to their personal stance, and no one really cares. But the case, linked above, is proof that if someone wants to fight on this issue, the religious language is clearly going to win.
But that doesn’t make it right.
There’s a petition in the works to change the code to the very reasonable, already-done-in-practice-for-years method of “say this part if you want, and don’t say it if you don’t want.” I hope you’ll support it.
Everyone loves Top 10 lists, so I thought I’d toss one in.
Top Ten Reasons to Change Section 502 of Title 10:
10. Yes, there are atheists in foxholes. I’ve served alongside many atheists who were among the hardest-working and most skilled in my almost 20 years of military experience. I count it an honor to have served beside them, and denigrating their choice to reject a religious belief is actually unlawful, just as it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against me based on my Christian faith. I mean, the whole “unlawful” part should be enough to require no other reason. Article VI of the Constitution states: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” While this clause at the end of the oath might not exactly meet the standard of a “religious test” it certainly sits in a very grey area. But since this point is clearly not enough, let’s move on:
9. There are plenty of other faiths in foxholes too. The military needs bodies, and so we take all kinds. That means that we’ve got Buddhists, Catholics, Druids, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Protestants, Sikhs, Wiccans… to name a few off the top of my head. Half of those belief systems – to my knowledge – don’t recognize a monotheistic God. So the “so help me God” doesn’t work for them. Yes, they may be a small minority, but the law has to protect the rights of everyone, not just the special people.
8. This would take us back to our roots. Now, some of my Christian friends and many of the inane comments on the Interweb talk about going back to our identity or roots as a Christian nation by keeping this phrase mandatory. News flash: much like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, this “so help me God” was a recent addition. Prior to 1962, you wouldn’t be prompted to say any such thing if enlisting into the Armed Forces. And honestly, I hope going back to the 60s is not what the Christians have in mind. (Side note: the Internet, it turns out, is a wonderful source of information. Using it before stating opinions and misinformation as fact is a very considerate course of action.)
7. This is not a Christian nation. Again, contrary to many comments on social media declaring it so, America is a secular nation by design, with a Judeo-Christian culture making up an arguably large part of past influences, along with deism and humanist philosophy. God didn’t pen the Constitution on stone tablets that George Washington brought down from Mount Vernon. However, many of the colonials were inspired to come to the New World to escape persecution and mistreatment on the basis of holding minority religious beliefs. That helps explain why American law and government was designed to ensure no requirement for religion would be enforced upon the people. Yes, there are quotes from Founding Fathers who speak about the need for faith in God. But they clearly didn’t intend an enforcement of one religion over every other.
6. We can use all the proud, honorable service we can get. I’ve served with atheists who are quite honorable and some who are jerks… just like there are Christians who are quite honorable and Christians that I wouldn’t trust to hold my Bible outside of my sight. Our nation has a large number of military commitments and missions, and we are striving to keep up that pace (if not increase it) while reducing the number of people in uniform available to execute the mission. If an atheist Airman is volunteering to serve, I’m happy to stand beside him. Because what matters on the flightline or the frontline is that we both swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.
5. This doesn’t take God out of anything at all. Some Christians worry that this is a case of persecution, or an instance of taking God out of the public sphere. But the language of the petition is clear: If you want to keep “so help me God” in your oath, do so. If you don’t want to say it, don’t. Nothing is lost for the believers, but the same level of equality and freedom to choose would be granted to those of other faiths or no faith.
4. This upholds equality. We don’t want to live in an American version of an Orwellian fable. “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others” can’t be permitted or upheld here. That’s not what our servicemembers–religious or atheist–are fighting to protect and defend. How can some people rejoice that Hobby Lobby gets to stand on its religious beliefs, and then rejoice just as loud when someone else’s freedom is tread upon? Well… I know how they can do so. But it’s still vile and wrong.
3. Yes, it is a big deal to “just say it.” Imagine showing up to work on Monday and being told unless you deny your faith, you’re fired. Just a few words. No big deal, right? Just say it, and keep earning a paycheck. Who would stand for this? I can’t. So if I’m not okay with the hypothetical, then I can’t accept when it is really happening to someone else.
2. Defending the rights of the atheist means defending my own right as well. If the government can mandate someone to swear an oath contrary to their belief, then that has far-reaching implications. I cannot be okay with that so long as it’s done to “them” without realizing that the government then has the same power to someday inflict such a requirement upon me. Call it the Golden Rule, call it common sense, call it sticking up for the underdog, or whatever you want. Sadly, I saw hundreds of comments of “Amen!” “Praise God!” and other passionate expressions of joy on this subject. If that’s your initial reaction, take a moment to think about how it would feel to be told you must deny your faith, or swear to Allah or something similar in order to serve your country. Why would anyone be okay with this?
And finally, my overall reason to change Title 10 and do away with this enforcement of “so help me God” in the oath is:
1. Nothing is gained but hypocrisy. The atheist has no faith in this God we are demanding he or she call upon. It forces the enlistee to lie while swearing or affirming a solemn oath. I’m not accusing the atheist here; I’m accusing the enforcers and defenders of such a requirement. Those four words mean nothing at all if forced upon someone who doesn’t believe. This serves no purpose. It is wasted breath. What should matter to a Christian isn’t whether these four words are said, but rather are they being lived out? Plenty of people, Christians and atheists and whatever else, have said “so help me God.” But apart from sincere faith informing and motivating devout action, who cares? It’s empty. No one’s life has been transformed to emulate Christ by the addition of “so help me God” in their oath of enlistment. Instead, we have a vast majority of people saying something that means absolutely nothing to them, and the political Christians will call it a victory. “We defended God in public,” they’ll say. “We kept God in the oath!”
No, all you did was create hypocrisy, forcing lips to say what hearts don’t believe.
And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.'” (Mark 7:6 NASB)
So, please, whether you’re a believer or not, go to Whitehouse.gov and sign this petition. You’re not just defending the freedoms of others, but also your own.
If you think I’ve missed a key point in my top ten, or if you think I’m way off base on this one, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know in a comment below! Thanks for taking the time to read, and even more so if you’ve signed.
Some of my recent rants on Facebook or in this forum have highlighted problems I’ve encountered with leadership in the military… so much so that I got some pointed feedback on one Facebook post asking about my plans to separate (…which I turned into a different rant, but that’s beside the point).
I was thinking how easy it is to focus on all the bad things and complain about what I think is wrong or what I don’t like, while paying no attention to all the good that has come from the last 18 years in the military.
So this is my tirade about what I love about this job.
Skills: As a guy fresh out of high school, I was an experienced grocery bagger and stock-boy. I also had a paper route. Highly marketable skills. The Air Force taught me two foreign languages and trained me for intelligence production and first-line analysis. Then they instructed me as an aircrew member and developed my communication skills and crisis management. They’ve taught me decision-making and resource management, and they’ve shuffled me through a variety of jobs and programs that give me some understanding of what works and what doesn’t in a corporate office. Perhaps most importantly, I have been in a variety of positions requiring management and interaction with other people, whether as peers, subordinates, or supervisors. I’ve learned how to get along with others in order to get the job done, even when we personally don’t see eye to eye. I’ve developed empathy for the needs of others, and I like to think that there’s some element of the servant-leadership we hear about during military education–that leadership style which says “I as a leader am here to take care of your needs as you accomplish the mission.” Most of these skills have proven essential over the years, and I know they’ll serve me well after I take off the flight suit and set a retirement shadow box up on the shelf.
Travel: One of the main selling points of military service is that “you get to see the world.” I am quite grateful in this regard. Prior to Basic Training, I never traveled more than two or three hours outside the Chicago area. Now I can say that I have stood on the beaches and battlefields of Okinawa, and I’ve enjoyed the weather in Florida. I hiked the side of Mount Fuji and ate wild strawberries in autumn in the hills of Washington state. I’ve walked the Las Vegas strip at night and visited rural villages in the Philippines on a medical relief mission. I’ve driven through every state west of the Mississippi and I’ve flown around the world. From the markets of Doha, to the temples of Thailand, from the scenic drives of the Monterey Bay, to the tropical paradise of Diego Garcia, I have seen far more of the world than I ever expected. And I have the Air Force to thank for this.
Experiences: The travel is made all the sweeter because of the special memories associated with these places. There’s the satisfaction of flying operational sorties that provide needed intelligence to soldiers on the ground in harm’s way. There’s the excitement of seeing another nation’s military in operation, up close and personal. There’s the joy of interacting with members of other services and other nation’s Air Forces, learning about our commonalities and our different styles of operations. Then there’s the unique opportunities – picnics with the crew eating tuna steaks fresh off a grill, from a fish that was swimming in the open ocean three hours earlier… pig roasts at the park, parties on the beach, and crew traditions in the squadron lounge, hearing stories from the men and women who were doing this job long before I enlisted… connecting with fellow believers around the world and walking into a Chapel on the other side of the earth from home, accepted and allowed to minister to the local congregation through music and song. There’s the special camaraderie that comes from dealing with a frustrating or challenging situation, and knowing that I’m not alone in this, that I’m there with my brothers and sisters in arms, and we’re all fighting to get through it. (And also I got to fly an F-15 that one time.)
People: These experiences would be nothing without the special and tremendous group of people that make up the Armed Forces. On a day-to-day basis, I get to interact with people who have (for one reason or another) raised their right hand and volunteered their service and their very lives for a cause greater than themselves. Not only that, but my job puts me in constant contact with the very best and brightest of this special class of American. As a sheltered young man from a very conservative background who preferred solitude to socializing, my time in the Air Force has been eye-opening, shattering any stereotypes and preconceived notions I had about anyone “not me.” Every day I see people who are totally different from me, and yet they share the desire to excel in what we do, to improve the situations and circumstances around them, to take care of the needs of their fellow Airmen and those less fortunate. I see the selfless service and devotion of individuals to their peers and to this nation, and I am deeply proud to be a part of it. More importantly, when our task sucks and our deadline is looming, and we’re pushing ourselves to the limits to get the job done, I feel a sense of success as my peers tell me, “You made that difficult time better for me. Thanks.”
Family: There is a special group of people that I wouldn’t know at all if it was not for my time in the Air Force. I met my wife in 1996 when she was serving in the Air Force as a Civil Engineering troop on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. She was my ride to church, my sister in Christ, eventually my best friend, and soon after, my fiancee. We met because a friend from Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas had a neighbor who had a friend on Okinawa who was a missionary from Hong Kong who happened to know another young Airman who attended a good church where I felt accepted and loved. That’s a mouthful! Now I have a wonderful teenage daughter and three amazing sons (and a pain-in-the-butt wiener dog).
So… when I complain on Facebook about the Air Force doing something stupid, or when I go off on a Thursday Tirade about mismanagement and abuse of power, please understand that I am not whining because I hate my job. I’m venting because I have so many reasons to love this job. So I get upset when our silliness and poor decisions obscure all the awesome reasons to join and stay in the military.
My friends know that when something difficult comes up at work, I will occasionally mutter, “I love my job I love my job I love my job” in an intentionally unconvincing monotone. We all laugh – misery loves company, after all.
But maybe, way deep down, I secretly mean it.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.