Local military humanists continue to thrive
Atheists and humanists in the military continue to come together throughout the world. From Japan to Italy and throughout the US, leaders are stepping up. Communities are forming as well, in some cases with the help of local chaplains. The following is a series of reports on successes at the grass-roots level. On-post groups, collaborations with military and civilians groups, and individual points of contact are all coming together as the military backbone of the international network of atheists and humanists.
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In Florida, MacDill AFB chaplains have facilitated with regular meetings in chaplain facilities. This has helped the group grow, with a “Left Behind” picnic and local news articles in the Tampa Tribune and St Pete Times. Local families at Ft Meade, Maryland have recently formed ATOM - American non-Theists Of Meade. Initial meetings have started. with a new baby on board with the group as well. Congratulations to the family there.
Chaplain (LT) Ryan Bareng has been helpful in supporting humanists currently deployed on the amphibious warship USS Green Bay at sea. Navy HM2 Mike Kowalski is hosting the Freethinkers and Philosophy Discussion Group and is seeking recognition as the ship’s humanist lay leader. The USS Green Bay, like most naval vessels, broadcasts a prayer every evening. While evening prayers are an unresolved issue from the perspective of the non-praying sailors, the facilitation of the philosophy group is a positive first step. This is an improvement from a prior program at the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln that was run outside chaplain circles.
Another positive story of chaplain support is through the service academies. The US Air Force Academy in Colorado has a full summer program for freethinkers. New cadets as they come into the Academy are afforded free time on Friday and Sunday primarily for worship services. The Freethinkers of Colorado Springs and local personnel are helping to sponsor those cadets to show support from the local community. The Maryland Freethinkers, a caucus within the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis has provided volunteers to support the Naval Academy Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers.
Ken Labelle, had of Goodfellow MASH in Texas, said “Some ideas which formed during the meetup included showings of atheist speakers and programs during meetings, hosting fundraisers to help local schools with science and math education, having Friday night “Pastafarian” meetups to show our pirate pride and have some good food and discussions.” Friday, June 17th, the local group hosted its first Pastafarian Pirate Feast.
Goodfellow AFB and the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California are closely associated in that graduates of DLI often go to Goodfellow for further training. One MAAF member from Dyess AFB visited Goodfellow MASH to consider having joint events or starting a local group at Dyess. Goodfellow and DLI personnel are also reaching out the members at Ft Huachuca as that is also a common location for follow-on military intelligence training. Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri has a local group reaching out to trainees who may go on to those Intelligence training posts. Creating mutual support as service members move from post to post is the future we can create with local leadership. However, thus far, finding other like-minded service members is difficult has we have not had success reaching out to the chaplains.
MAAF also works with other organizations such as the International Humanist & Ethical Union, the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, and associated members in locations such as Australia and Canada. One international effort is to provide assistance to Nadav Heipert, an Israeli Defense Force soldier seeking his own freedoms within an overtly religious military. Having a supportive outside organization gives him comfort that the IDF does not provide. The IDF includes religious oaths and supports a religious Constitution. His situation is legally different than US military personnel, but his need for a connection with like-minded individuals is not different. The UK Armed Forces Humanist Association is looking for US and other members in Qatar to grow a local group. Athena Holter-Mehren in Turkey has started MAAF Incirlik. Tom Essenpreis is a new point of contact looking for more members in Kandahar, Afghanistan. These international efforts are new, but reflect the reach of our membership and a history of prior local groups around the world.
These locations provide only a sample of the international and US communities for atheists and humanists. Both US and non-US military, as well as US and non-US civilians are joining forces to try to create strong bonds among nontheistic and humanistic members. Local leaders are stepping up, but our great need is to have equal understanding, acceptance, and support from local leaders. Officially-recognized lay leaders, chaplain training about the nontheist perspective, chaplain outreach to the underserved nontheist community, and humanist chaplains are all indicators of success that have yet to materialize throughout the US military. Atheists and humanists are coming together to seek recognition, but official recognition from the chaplaincy is needed to ensure true equal opportunity nontheists in the US military.