As late as 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 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."