Religious Ceremony in the Military… again crossing the line from harmless to recklessly leathal

Posted in atheism, Military with tags , on April 29, 2009 by 556caliberatheist

Religious ceremony and function is a huge part of American life and the Military certainly no exception. From the moment of enlistment you are required to either participate in various religious ceremonies or functions. Some are daily and sometimes they are not and some of them can even endanger the lives of an entire unit.

Being in the Army I can only give my personal experiences in the United States Army as an enlisted man but I am confident that my experiences have their equal across all ranks, officer or enlisted and all branches of service.

When you first join the Military you are required to swear in. When I joined I did not swear in on a Bible but the phrase that ruffles so many non-theistic feathers “…so help me God” is the cap on the oath taken at enlistment and reenlistment. I am not sure if recruits are typically sworn in on the Bible (or holy text of their choice) but I was not, possibly for the sake of brevity as my enlistment was somewhat hasty. Upon re-enlistment you are also required to swear in.

I asked a Staff Sergeant in my unit that was a former recruiter if they always swore in on a Bible or some other tome and he said that they did were he was recruiting in Northern California. I asked if recruits had the option to affirm rather than swear and he did not know what I was talking about. The non-religious don’t join the Army with the same verve and in the same numbers as the enlisted.

Then you ship off to Basic Training, also known as BCT (Basic Combat Training) in the US Army. This is a 9 week test of your physical and mental toughness and a course in all the very basic soldiering skills (how to shoot, move and communicate). BCT is designed to be extremely stressful and it is. To be plain it was living hell. I think very few experiences in the civilian world can compare to the stress of Basic Training. I can think back to times when myself and other recruits would literally get in fist fights over pitiful privileges such as 5 minutes on the phone or a slice of cake or a can of soda.

It’s all very silly to think of it now but if you were there you would have put em up for it too.

The only reprieve that you could hope to get in BCT is Sunday. Typically no required training (ruck marches, rifle ranges, navigation, etc) is planned on Sunday. My Drill Sergeants always said that Sunday was for the 3 C’s: Church, Cleaning, and Corrective Training.

By the way, Corrective Training is a euphemism for Smoking which is yet another euphemism for exercise. Exercise that has you on the brink of sanity sliding around in puddles of your own sweat or maybe the vomit of the guy next to you. The Army loves euphemisms.

So all training ceases and church services start. Most of the time it was a good chance to get away form the unit and the Drills. It was required that everyone have a “Battle Buddy”, another euphemism for someone else to go with you everywhere. I was a good sport. We had a Jewish recruit and I went to the Jewish services a couple times with him. Actually him and I got along great.

After a few weeks in BCT I had what was called the “Free Day Away” run by a church in a small town near the Post. Free Day Away was voluntary but we were told just to go, if we stayed at our training unit the Drill Sergeants would find something for us to do and it made clear that it would involve corrective training and something call “Fatty Cake Hill”.

This was my personal first hand experience of Free Day Away.

We knew that Free Day Away was run by a church but I had no idea how much the church would be involved. We boarded busses run by the church from our unit to the small town about 45 miles away. The driver and I talked about fishing and made other small talk. As we got off the bus he said that the preacher would “Challenge you”… whatever that meant.

The atmosphere was great. We got to play basketball, use phones, Internet, eat candy, pizza, cake, all the goodies. But there was a catch. We were required to attend a service right before we left.

The service dealt mainly with Hell and how we could all be saved. The preacher told a story about a recruit that did not come up and accept Jesus and how on the way back to the Post the bus careened off a cliff. The recruit was said to be trapped inside and the bus was on fire and the recruit stating “I am in Hell! Save me!”. It was all bilge and can be easily imitated by someone with only a fleeting knowledge of the nature of Hell or southern fire and brimstone type sermons.

Looking around me though I couldn’t help noticing that this old time fire and brimstone sermon was affecting the recruits. The man next to me was in tears as was about a third of the congregation. At the conclusion of the sermon the preacher invited us up to the stage to accept Jesus and be saved from eternal torment and torture. I saw people that I knew to be Jewish go and accept. The only other atheist in my unit went up to accept. I, almost exclusively, didn’t budge.

Surprisingly this was never mentioned by anyone and I am very happy about that. They would not have wanted to hear my viewpoint on the matter. Not only that, those that had so solemnly went up to accept Jesus also performed sex acts on each other on the way back to Basic.

By the way, MAAF is taking action on a religious nature of Free Day Away. I would be very eager to see the outcome of that. And I would also be very eager to see Gillian Anderson naked but that’s a hair off topic.

After Basic you enter AIT which is Advanced Individual Training. It’s a school for your MOS or your job in the Army. I am a Combat Medic so after Basic I spent 16 weeks of AIT at beautiful Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Funny… I have noticed that once you got more and more away form the Drill Sergeants’ Olive Drab Grip church attendance plummets. Actually I can not recall a single instance of anyone I know going to church while I was in AIT for 16 whole weeks even though you had more time and the chapel was closer. I can’t remember one person going. Swear to God.

After graduation you are a soldier. Now it’s the real Army. And the religious ceremony and function continues sometimes at grave risk.

We prayed before deployment. We have prayed before especially dangerous missions or dangerously filthy latrines. Here in Iraq the very limited reading material is primarily composed of trashy contemporary fiction and religious literature.

It’s how we deal with the deployment. Just like how church attendance shoot up in Basic under that stressful environment now we are in the most stressful environment known: Combat. Mistakes cost lives. So much of it seems to be the will of the universe or just pure dumb luck. IED’s don’t care what rank you are or if you’re single or married. Single soldiers and married soldiers and officers and enlisted alike get blown up.

The risks are very real. To you watching at home it’s another soldier getting blown up but to the grunt on the ground it’s his buddy. Paris Hilton gets the headlines and Private Joe Snuffy’s premature violent death gets buried in what is charitably called journalism.

Most soldiers utilize a social networking web site to keep in touch with family members back home. They keep them up to date on what their Hero is doing, how he’s doing and when we’ll be coming home. It’s a great way to distract yourself from the job but it has a major problem. And that problem is not jailbait. At least in this case it’s not. Usually. Usually not.

Prayer requests. Man they bug me. This is when religion crosses that line from harmless delusion to grave consequence for the sake of a comfort blanket.

When a soldier dies or is injured they send out prayer requests for their soul or a speedy recovery. This is information. Information that has been, is being, and will be used against us. This is being shown to those that would do us harm (again, in the name of God) the outcome of their missions.

You may be thinking “So what, so they know if some got hurt or killed, that’s not very valuable information is it?” It’s tactical feedback. It lets them know what methods work and what methods don’t. The rank or unit of soldier hurt or killed gives and indication of how we operate and how we move. Also it is an indication of how effective our counter measures are.

Also prayer requests are sent out before an especially dangerous mission. Example:

“My husband is with the 1-44th Infantry and they are going to be conducting a raid tonight. This is in a very dangerous mission and I am asking you to pray for the safety of his unit while they conduct this operation.”

OK, so what have you just given the enemy?

1. The unit and what kind of unit. Also it’s fairly easy to find out where such and such unit is stationed and thus an approximate area where the raid is going to take place. All this information is readily available on the Internet.

2. What kind of mission it is. A “raid” which is typically targeting a HVT (High Value Target), someone that is wanted for whatever reason.

3. The time “tonight”.. I’ll grant, a little ambiguous but if caught at the correct stage extremely valuable information.

The entire unit is at grave risk. The best possible outcome if the enemy was watching is that they won’t find anything and end up wasting time while the bad guys slip away, that happens about 90% of the time. The worst possible scenario? The enemy is ready for us. Our boys die.

All because someone wanted a prayer request.

I got an e-mail recently from an old friend of mine from high school. It said:

When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say the following prayer for our troops around the world –

‘Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in time of need. I ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.’

There is nothing attached. This can be very powerful. Just send this to all the people in your address book. Do not stop the wheel, please…

Of all the gifts you could give a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Chaplain & others deployed in harm’s way, prayer is the very best one.

I typically just delete this trite crap but I had to answer this one. I had this on my mind for a while. I said “If you really want to give the soldier’s what they want figure out a way to send a giant care package of pussy and then a sandwich to eat afterwards. Offensive? Well I find it slightly offensive to think of you praying for me”

OK, so I might have come on a bit strong and a little crude. Well… if you think that’s crude you should hear the conversations that (male) soldiers have when idle. They pass belief for coarseness liberally sprinkled with profanity. That also may have seemed a little sexist which I do not intend it to be. I am in a combat arms unit and there are no females in combat arms units. Perhaps a box of pussys and dicks?

Back on track, what do I do when the company holds a prayer? Do I storm out of the circle in a huff for my ignorant brothers in arms? Do I demand that a secular service also be held? Nope. I close my eyes and hang my head. OK, I also picture naked women but I am polite about my atheism. I see no reason to rock the boat. I see no need to ruin their solemn ceremony because of my intolerance.

It’s an age old conflict between good manners and principals in the interest of civility. I don’t think I am compromising my principals. My principal, before atheism, is tolerance.

Private First Class Paul K. Brickey 68W Combat Medic

Charlie Mike, Roger Out


From the Foxhole…

Posted in atheism, Military, Uncategorized on April 28, 2009 by 556caliberatheist

There are few things I need to get off my chest.

First of all there is nothing I will say that hasn’t’ already been stated by greater minds and more nimble tongues than I. This notion is not shared by many other people as evidenced by millions of other blogs by people more interesting than myself millions of times over. I have only a vague idea what a Twitter is… I just don’t have anything interesting to say. So many have already said it much better than I could ever hope.

Second of all I am uneducated. I remember watching “Bill Nye the Science Guy” as a kid and one thing he said a lot that I remember is he would say “Scientist, like you and me, scientists believe…” I am not a scientist. I am a fan of science standing on the sidelines.

And finally I am an atheist and a skeptic who happens to be in that most conservative of circles, the military, more specifically the Army. I am currently stationed at a small Combat Operating Base near Sadr City Iraq. I am a Combat Medic serving in a Tanker company in a combat arms unit.

So if The Foxhole Atheist is rarely updated that is why.

That being said I do believe I may have something to offer the world: My perspective as a young uneducated atheist serving his county’s military in time of war.

Being an atheist in the military has its own set of challenges and its own set of hardships. When I first joined the Army we were asked what religion we were. This information is stamped on your dog tags in the event of your death. I wrote “None” instead of “Atheist”. It is not wise to freely advertise your personal beliefs for that my hinder advancement. As the first President George Bush stated “An atheist cannot be a true patriot” and many in the military take this to heart.

In case you are wondering, now I have several sets of dog tags which read everything from “Jedi” to “No Religious Preference” to “Atheist”.

Those of us in the military and specially those of us deployed to a combat zone have to deal with the random chance of an early grave and a hasty death. If you’ll forgive the phrase, that is the cross that we bear. That is our profession and it’s what we do. Day in and day out you risk your neck. Our wives and sweethearts back home also understand the risk of that dreaded phone call. It’s common for those not typically religious to turn to religion as a safety net or to hedge their bets in case of premature demise. That is what the phrase “There are not atheists in foxholes” is implied to mean.

When the lead is flying there are not politics. I may not agree with the judgments of the Men in Suits that sent me here but I need to get out alive and make sure the other men in my unit do likewise. Democrat or Republican don’t mean a thing to an IED and the suicide bomber does not distinguish nor does he/she have any prejudices against either. They are both Infidels to him/her. To the enemies that which we fight be it whatever name we choose for them, be it Haji (slightly offensive) or Sand Nigger (grossly offensive) or insurgent (misleading to say the least, boldfaced lie to some), this is a religious war. That is the chief difference between this enemy and most others my country has faced. He is not following orders from a legitimate military authority. He is following orders from what he believes is the most supreme authority in the universe. Some of the Christians I serve with also hold this same belief, names of the deities changed. To some on both sides, it’s a modern day Crusade.

And here I am, the Foxhole Atheist caught in the middle of it all.

Private First Class Paul K. Brickey 68W Combat Medic

Charlie Mike, Roger Out.