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."