Monthly Archives: July, 2015

Soul Care Conversation (Military Cultural Competency: The First Amendment Rights Military Members Experience Limited Protection)

July 29th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we continued our conversation on military cultural competency. We initially reviewed the oath of enlistment that all service members take while entering the military, an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Then we discussed “military-deference,” an application of the protections of the First Amendment in which military members have limitations or restrictions such as the freedom of speech. This week we will discuss in more detail the three First Amendment rights where our service members experience limited protection. I must apologize, this blog will be longer in order for us to continue the flow of the conversation on this topic.


The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion. This short phrase, “free exercise”  has complex implications for service members. The two primary factors regarding free exercise for service members include:

  • religious expression
  • accommodation

Over the course of the last decade there has been much debate over religious expression in the US, to include in the military. Numerous complaints have been levied against commanders’ use of excessive religious expression while the commander is in her/his official capacity. This may give the appearance to subordinates that what has been shared by the commander has official government endorsement. On the other side of the argument, some would claim that restricting religious speech of military commanders would be unconstitutional and possibly repressive.

Which side is correct? Free expression cases have included situations of sectarian prayers (praying in Jesus name) such as an invocation at a change of command ceremony where all service members are required to attend. Another type of case has been service members proselytizing. The debate continues as Constitutional scholars and lawyers, and interested parties from both sides make their case.

In the mean time, there are regulatory and legal precedence that Congress, the courts and the military have used.

“A basic principle of our nation is free exercise of religion. The Department of Defense (DoD) places a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of their perspective religions. It is DoD policy that requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline.” So reads the first paragraph of DoD Directive 1300.17 “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services.” Military commanders are given the authority to determine the appropriateness of any request based on their assessment of how it will affect a unit’s morale, cohesiveness and discipline; individual liberties are of secondary consideration. (Excerpts taken from the First Amendment Center, “Military Speech,” Bill Kenworthy)

This DoD Directive established a process whereby every service member has the opportunity to practice her/his religion as they are required by their respective faith group or denomination. However there may be instances where the practice of one’s faith may conflict with unit cohesion, morale, disciplines, or standards. When this happens, the service member may request an accommodation with the respective unit commander.

As a chaplain I assisted numerous Soldiers who requested an accommodation from the commander, such as a Wicca Soldier who wanted to use and store the Athame in his room. The Athame is a ceremonial dagger with a double-edged blade. As a knife, this is considered a weapon and can not be stored in a barracks room or in post/base quarters. In this instance, the commander was willing to store the “knife” in the arms room and the Soldier was able to sign it out when needed. At times the commander may deny the free exercise due to mission requirements, good order and discipline, safety, and other considerations.

A totally separate issue but relevant to free exercise and the accommodation of religious practices is the fact that although the military is a governmental enterprise, Congress established the military chaplaincy on 29 July 1775. Some believe that a military chaplaincy appears to be an endorsement of a religion which the First Amendment prohibits. Numerous law suits have attempted to refute the Constitutionality of the military chaplaincy. However, in each case the courts have sided with the United States military, claiming the importance of the chaplains to protect the free exercise of every service member as well as accommodating the rights and beliefs of each.

Also, American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) provides radio and television information and entertainment programming from a mix of American broadcast and cable networks to DoD personnel and their families overseas. AFRTS is part of the DoD and has a dual mission. AFRTS’s mission, “is to communicate Department of Defense policies, priorities, programs, goals and initiatives” and to provide “stateside radio and television programming, ‘a touch of home,’ to U.S. service men and women, DoD civilians, and their families serving outside the continental United States.”

Interesting enough, I served three years as the Religious Program Coordinator for AFRTS. Remember, the facilities authorized to broadcast AFRTS programming operate under DoD’s management and control. And yet, my responsibility was to obtain and distribute religious programming for television and radio. The programming that I obtained went through a very rigorous approval process with an advisory group. There were chaplains who produced local religious programming for various overseas audiences. Our mandate was to ensure religious sensitivities, and be inclusive of race, gender, and religion.

As you can see religious expression and accommodation practices in the military are very complex. These emotionally charged issues will most likely continue.


The three primary resources that limit free speech:

  • DoD Directives
  • Service specific regulations
  • The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

There have been numerous challenges to the articles in the UCMJ within the courts. However, the court’s decisions have sided with the articles because of the military’s necessity for obedience and discipline. The courts premise is that free speech may undermine the effectiveness of command and is not constitutionally protected.

An example of this restriction would be that while I served as an officer, I could not publicly speak against the Command-in-Chief. It would not bode well seeing a service member in uniform publically denouncing the President. It could give the appearance of the Army’s endorsement of my viewpoint. As one reviews the UCMJ and Article 88 we see that this restriction goes beyond the President.

Article 88: Contempt Toward Officials, states that “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

The military is an authoritarian culture with a command structure. Article 88 has implications for not only the officers but also the enlisted members in that they are restricted from the same. Numerous cases have been taken to the Court of Military Review. The court has determined that “military necessity can be a compelling government interest warranting the limitation of free speech.” At the center of these decisions has been balancing the needs of the government in promoting a disciplined military force.

The restrictions of free speech go beyond what one can say or not say about the President or other government officials. A service member can not campaign, publically endorse, wear or display a campaign advertisement for a particular party or individual. Also, social media has expanded the opportunities for service members to share about anything. The result has been adding restrictive measures for service members in the use of social media, such as blogging and email. Some may question this restriction.

However, while serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, warriors were not permitted to email or call home for a period of time following a casualty. DoD does not want a family discovering that their loved one was wounded or killed through an email or phone call. The proper casualty notification procedure is critical. Casualty notification is a delicate and sensitive process that includes a trained service member and a chaplain.


The third limitation focuses on assembly. The restrictions include:

  • Service members planning and conducting an assembly
  • Service members attending an assembly planned and conducted by a civilian but while in uniform

One can understand these limitations due to the perception that the public may think that the military adheres to the political viewpoint or purpose of the meeting or protest.

The right to peaceable assembly may also be restricted by military commanders if the gathering is shown to be detrimental to loyalty, discipline or morale. U.S. District Judge Donald Russell in 1969 heard such a case, in which several enlisted men were denied the right to hold an open and public meeting on a South Carolina Army base for a free discussion of the Vietnam War (see Dash v. Commanding General, 307 F.Supp. 849 (D.S.C. 1969). Judge Russell decided that post commanders had the authority to deny servicemen under their command the right to hold public meetings on post. Although the plaintiffs in this case asserted the purpose of the meeting was to discuss peaceably the justification for the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the judge found it clear that they sought to generate discontent with the Vietnam War among servicemen in hopes that the political decision to involve the nation in the war “might be influenced, if not reversed.” Russell cited evidence presented by the defendants that, during an impromptu open meeting discussing the issue, fights broke out, orders were disobeyed and disciplinary control was lost. In light of this, the court found the post commander’s decision reasonable. (Excerpts take from the First Amendment Center, “Military Speech,” Bill Kenworthy)

There have been numerous incidents where a service member feels strongly about a position and therefore protests, while in uniform. We all can understand why this would be difficult in a society that largely has no privacy and has instant media access.

This conversation certainly does not go into depth on the issues, concerns, cases, and policies regarding the application of the First Amendment’s protections. The intent is not to be an exhaustive discussion but to introduce us to a little known but an important part of the military culture. Next week, we will begin to share about some specific aspects of the military that will help us get to know our warriors. Until next week, I look forward to our conversation…


Soul Care Conversation (Military Cultural Competency: Limitations to Constitutional Freedoms)

July 22nd, 2015 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we began our conversation around the understanding of military culture with the discussion about our service members who serve in a “joint” context but maintain specific cultural identities from their respective service branches.  For our topic today, we will discuss an aspect of military culture that many Americans do not know or understand.

The Oath

“I, (name of Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or Guardian), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code 502)

The oath of enlistment in the US military provides us a glimpse of what makes the military culture unique onto itself. The individual who decides to become part of the US military does something no other person is required to do in order to work for a business or corporation. Some employees are mandated to take a oath to their organization or to their employer. However, the service member takes an oath not to a person or organization, but to the Constitution of the United States.

Why the Constitution?

The service member takes an oath to a document that: safeguards liberty, justice,and civil rights for its citizens; delineates governmental authority; and provides for the nation’s common defense. No one individual can accomplish the task to sustain a “perfect union,” nor safeguard the rights of its citizens. However, “We, the people of the United States” can together ensure a “more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” It is the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Guardian that take an oath to support and defend the supreme law of the nation. And yet, only service members are asked to give up certain rights for the benefit of the nation; like freedom of speech. Why?

Freedom Denied?

Often while in conversation with family members and friends I jokingly share that the First Amendment does not apply to the Military. They look at me dumbfounded. However, this statement is not far from the truth. Most Americans do not realize this is but one of the many sacrifices made by our service members.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” However for US service members, this may not be the case because there is a “military-deference” in the application of the protections of the First Amendment.

In 1974 the U.S. Supreme Court wrote, “While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it” (Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 758). This quote from the Court sums up what is known as the Doctrine of Military Necessity or the military-deference doctrine. Military necessity has played a defining role in almost all cases involving the First Amendment freedoms of service members since 1974. (Sited from the First Amendment Center, “Military Speech,” Bill Kenworthy.)

The First Amendment freedoms ensured by the Constitution have limitations for the military regarding:

  • religion
  • speech
  • assembly

For our conversation next week we will discuss in detail these three First Amendment freedoms that are limited to US service members. Until then, I look forward to our continued conversation….


Soul Care Conversation (Military Cultural Competency: Introduction to the Topic)

July 15th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Thank you for joining our conversation this week. Last week we highlighted several relevant items about getting to know our warriors, veterans, and their families. We shared about what we know, what we do not know, and what we hear about our veterans. We also identified the three ways we can get to know our warriors, veterans, and their families through an awareness of military culture, an understanding of family dynamics, and acknowledging the context of the wars our country has asked our service men and women to fight.

Military Culture, Family Dynamics, Context of War

I am excited to share in this conversation. As a veteran who served 30 years on active duty, I bring knowledge, experience, and passion to the conversation. As an Army Chaplain, I;

  • witnessed and experienced many changes in the military culture
  • counseled service women and men, spouses, and families that experienced challenges in their relationships
  • served on numerous deployments to include Grenada, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan

A “Joint” Understanding

For our conversation over the next several weeks, we will discuss various aspects about military culture. One could ask, how can we define military culture when the US has three service components: Active, Reserve, and National Guard; and five service branches; Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and the Coast Guard (which is a part of Home Land Security except during a time of war)? Each component and branch are so different. Prior to 1986, the US military was organized along lines of command that reported to their respective service chiefs in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. However, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 intended to;

  • change the way the services interact
  • eliminate inter-service rivalry that was experienced during the Vietnam War
  • provide unity of command

Since 1986, the military culture of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard has slowly evolved into to a joint culture. The Goldwater-Nichols Act has made the military a “purple” force, meaning that even though the various services wear their respective uniforms, they organize, train, equip, and fight as one force. The results of the Goldwater-Nichols Act have been;

  • individual services changed from relatively autonomous war-fighting entities into an integrated force
  • sweeping changes to the way the US military was organized in peace time and for combat operations

The first test of Goldwater-Nichols was the 1989 invasion of Panama where the US Commander, General Maxwell Thurman, an Army General, exercised full control over the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army assets without having to negotiate with the individual services.

I experienced joint operations while serving in Afghanistan as the senior US Chaplain from 2011-2012. My boss, General John Allen, was the US Forces and NATO Forces Commander. A US Marine 4-Star General had direct control over all joint (US Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard) and combined (Germany, Spain, Italy, Korea, Afghanistan, and other nations) forces in Afghanistan. I served with outstanding Religious Support Teams from the Air Force, Navy, and Army. And yes, the Marines had outstanding chaplains too. You may not know, the Navy Chaplains provide religious support to the Corps and the Coast Guard. Even though we wore different uniforms, we had one intent, to bring God to our warriors and our warriors to God.

The elimination of inter-service rivalry into a joint force doctrine has been slow. Tongue in cheek, my chaplain colleagues from the Navy and Air Force would tell me that the Army still spells “joint,” A-r-m-y!

An Army Point of View

I have to admit, at times this is true.

  • It seems old habits are difficult to break. Rather than go with the unknown, we go with experience.
  • We do what we know. How we train is how we fight.
  • It is difficult, especially while in a complex, ambiguous, uncertain, and volatile environment, to dramatically change one’s point of view and act differently.
  • And, inter-service rivalry is hard to break (Go Army, beat Navy!)

But, we have made much progress. I enjoyed the numerous experiences of learning from my Navy and Air Force colleagues, experiencing collegiality, and sharing in the friendly bantering of respective service pride.  I was honored to have had the opportunity to serve together.

So, as we begin our conversation this week, it is important to note, even though I had numerous joint experiences, I served 30 years in the Army. The lens through which I view the military and military family is “green,” Army green. Largely, my part of the conversation will be framed around my experience as an Army Chaplain.  I hope those from the other services will enter the conversation to share from their view point and experience.

So understanding “we do what we know,” if the faith community desires to begin a mission and ministry with our veterans and their families, possibly a good place to start is to get to understand the military and know the people who serve. With this said let us continue our conversation…


Reflections of a Combat Veteran Professor

July 11th, 2015 Posted by Blog 3 comments

Student veterans should be supported in identifying faculty allies to mentor them along the way in higher education, to ease the transition from soldier to student and beyond. Faculty members who don’t have combat experience can understand war only in the abstract or by relying on the experience of those who have been to war. I suspect that the reason colleagues have turned to me for advice is their concern that their understanding or theological interpretation of war or the military might be inadequate. They know that there’s something they don’t know, and they care enough…

Soul Care Conversation (Getting to Know Those Who Serve)

July 7th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Good Day all! Since our last conversation we all have had the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day. I hope you all had a wonderful and memorable 4th of July. I had the honor to commemorate this special day with the Fort Bragg community in North Carolina. As I walked around the post parade field I observed many of our current warriors in uniform and the pride of each Soldier and his/her family. I noticed the many veterans, some with gray hair or beards, wearing T-shirts that bore emblems of their former units.  As I sat on the parade field with thousands of other warriors, veterans, and their families, I was moved with deep appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who sat with me. I began to reflect that most Americans (not on a military installation) who were watching fireworks do not know or understand our warriors or their families and what is required of them. So this week will be the first of numerous conversations on getting to know our service members and their families.

So what do we know about our warriors and veterans? For our conversation today, I will share just a few relevant items in order to pique your interest so that you may become curious enough to read and research for yourself, or better yet ask a veteran about the military and their experience.

What We Know

  • The military is a unique culture on to itself.
  • Fewer than 1% of Americans have served or participated in the Post 9/11 wars.
  • If you add immediate family members, only 5% of the population have a link to a veteran.
  • The Department of Defense employs about 1.8 million people making it the single largest employer in the United States; with more employees than Exxon, Mobil, Ford, General Motors, and GE combined.
  • US veterans number 22 million individuals and account for less than 7% of the total population. (The Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] projects that number to decrease and that by 2043 the US will have 14 million veterans for a total percentage of the population at only 3.5%.)
  • As of March 31, 2014, 970,000 disability claims were registered with the VA for post 9/11 veterans. Common combat injuries include second and third degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post traumatic stress disorder, and amputations. Also, there have been “non-hostile injuries” and other medical problems to include heat stroke, sexual trauma, suicide attempts, respiratory problems, and vehicle crashes.
  • The Department of Defense and the VA have made progress in our veteran care under the rubrics of physical, emotional, social, and psychological well-being.
  • There are 5.5 million (1.1 million Post 9/11) caregivers providing 24/7 care to their wounded loved one. (Survey conducted by the Rand Corporation under the auspices of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Caregiver Community Program.)

These statistics provide a brief glimpse into the realities of the sacrifices demanded of our warriors and their families. We should have an understanding of who they are and what they have been asked to do because our veterans and their families work and live in our communities.

What We Hear

  • Much of what we hear about veterans today is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Politicians, media, and advocacy groups have recently focused on veterans who return from war with difficulties adjusting to civilian life.
  • Also, it seems that American society has labeled our veterans as either heroes or broken.

None of these considerations bring us close to understanding our veterans and their challenges.

What We Do Not Know

  • Americans do not understand that most of our veterans are not wounded and many have successfully navigated the transition from warrior to civilian life.
  • Many veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD contribute importantly and effectively in their communities.
  • The US will be culturally disconnected from the realities of war because of the decreasing number of veterans.
  • The number of “soul wounds” due to the trauma and violence of war.

Many warriors have successfully made the transition back into our communities. However, for some the transition has been fraught with obstacles, mistrust, and fear. Jane, a professor at a university, responded to last week’s blog, “In my work with college student-veterans, I find that combat brings many to a faith crisis. They go to Iraq or Afghanistan full of faith but what they experience there causes many to have enormous doubt and questions of theodicy. They need to talk about these issues but there aren’t a lot of people they trust enough — usually only other veterans. It is a real challenge for our clergy, chaplains, and friends-in-faith to be patient, supportive, reliable until we can create safe enough space for the faith questions to emerge.” What Jane experiences in the university may be similar to what others have witnessed in their communities as well.

Recently, the Washington Post described alternative therapies that the VA has explored as part of a treatment regimen to include equine therapy, alpha stimulation, guided imagery, yoga, hypnosis, aqua therapy and even Botox.  There is no mention of faith or the spiritual journey toward the healing of the soul. Some of our returning veterans face a deep spiritual crisis, unknown by the casual observer. Sufficient resources have not been committed to help our returning veterans recover from the spiritual trauma of war. So what can the faith community do?

How Can We Get to Know Our Veterans and Their Families

  • Military cultural competency
  • Military family dynamics
  • Context of War

Our conversation during the next several weeks will be an exploration of these topics. Hopefully we will better understand our warriors, the wars they fought, the challenges they faced as they returned home, and their family dynamics. I look forward to our continued conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Faith for a Warrior)

July 1st, 2015 Posted by Blog 4 comments

Last week, we began our conversation around the need to be about soul care with our veterans. We shared about the role of spirituality in the warrior’s life, the spiritual issues a warrior faces, especially while in harm’s way, and the affects of trauma and violence on the warrior’s soul. I had mentioned that this week we would share around the theme of faith and why faith is important to the Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airmen, and Guardian.

Faith of a Warrior…

“I tell you the truth, I have not seen faith like this in all the land of Israel.”––Matthew 8:10. Jesus makes this emphatic statement about the faith of a Roman Centurion, a warrior.

“On the day I cried out, you answered me. You encouraged me with inner strength.” ––Psalm 138:3. The Hebrew scripture also reveals the importance of faith for David, another warrior.

Faith, defined as;

  • confidence
  • trust
  • belief
  • reliance
  • loyalty
  • commitment
  • dedication;

Faith is central

Faith is central to the character of our Service women and men. Whether it is the commitment to one’s country, belief in the mission, loyalty to one’s battle buddy, reliance in training, or trust in God, faith has significance for the warriors of the U.S. Armed Forces.

As an Army Chaplain for over 30 years, I can attest to the importance of faith to the warrior. Whether one is an Army paratrooper on an airborne operation, an Air Force Security Force Specialist on the firing range qualifying with his or her personal weapon, a Marine rifle platoon leader conducting a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan, or a Navy Corpsman providing medical care to a wounded Sailor, or a Guardian on a drug interdiction operation, the warrior relies on faith in order to successfully accomplish the mission.

While attending airborne school, my class had a lull between training events. I used the opportunity to conduct some “hip pocket” leadership training on the importance of faith in order to successfully complete airborne school. I shared about the need to have faith in one’s equipment (belief that the rigger correctly packed the parachute), faith in one’s training (reliance on the procedures and standards for safety), and faith in God (courage to exit the aircraft that comes from trusting in God).

No matter the military occupation skill or the situation that the warrior faces, faith is important. From the moment the warrior puts on the uniform at basic training until they separate from the military, they face death. Whether it is the fear of one’s own death, or the training in the killing of another, or engaging the enemy on the battlefield, each forces the warrior to decide what she or he truly believes. Faith becomes central.

Changing religious landscape

And yet,

  • The 2014 Religious Landscape Study suggests that the number of religiously unaffiliated is growing among the Millennials.
  • This is the largest age demographic of our warriors.
  • Therefore, our men and women in uniform are among the least likely to be part of a faith community.

Why faith? 
If religion is not important, then why is faith? For me, understanding our veterans and the challenges they face centers around faith. I have looked into the questioning eyes of a paratrooper about to exit the aircraft, or a Soldier on a live fire range ready to move with his squad to take an “objective,” or the surgical team prepping for the arrival of a Marine who stepped on a land mine. All look to the chaplain. Why? Maybe because the chaplain represents the Holy, or because the chaplain is a man or woman of faith, or because the chaplain  brings a sense of peace and calmness even in the midst of chaos. Or maybe, the crucible of death turns the warrior to seek out the Holy in faith. These are matters of the soul.

Until next week, I look forward to your reply and continued conversation…