Local MAAF network continues to thrive
West Point nontheist meeting
Local groups are continuing to thrive with local leaders and some support from the chaplaincy. The highlight is continuing support from the Military Academies. Last month, West Point, Air Force, and Naval Academies started the first chaplain programs nontheist summer trainees.
MAAF President Jason Torpy has been out to visit Air Force and Navy, and most recently visited West Point. Several units were in field training and unable to attend, but 16 cadets were in the meeting. The meeting was billed as a general nonreligious meeting, but all 16 attendees wanted to stand for the MAAF picture. Professor Jen Kiesling was unavailable, and two other faculty, one a Christian and one a Muslim, facilitated the meeting. The meeting went well, with great food, philosophy, and fun. All the academies have a great foundation leading into the academic year.
Things aren’t going well everywhere. At Ft Leonard Wood, finding new members continues to be difficult, but with Secular Students at the University of Central Missouri and MARSH in Rolla, MO, there’s a strong community even in central Missouri that will win out in the long run.
Chris Brown, organizer for MacDill Atheists & Secular Humanists, has returned from a short deployment. Everyone is happy to see him back. The co-organizer, John Kieffer, along with Ellen Beth Wachs have had serious legal challenges from an evangelical local government. I encourage everyone to sign their petition and send what support you can. These are the kinds of issues that really call for local support. The next MacDill meeting is August 16th at the base chapel annex. Local community issues, discrimination from other agencies, and deployments all show why cooperative chaplain assistance is important for atheists, too.
At the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, representatives have been seeking chaplain support with no success. Religious reading groups for Christians and Wiccans are available, but not for atheists or humanists. MAAF has stepped in to provide assistance, and hopefully chaplains there will soon open up to nontheists. Currently, local atheists and humanists must leave post to meet. In addition, because this is a training environment, there is no opportunity for non-trainees to interact with trainees, making like-minded mentorship and support available only to religious trainees.
The Air Force Academy continues to thrive after policy changes. The Academy chaplains hosted a picnic for their religious education program, including the Cadet Freethinkers. Freethinkers were at the picnic with other groups, providing proof that the monotheists, polytheists, pantheists, and nontheists can all co-exist in a positive event. The training summer is ending, and the academic year group had their first meeting August 8th for pizza and introductions to set up a great fall program.
MASH Ft Bragg continues to succeed with over 100 meetup group members and a major victory for organizer Justin Griffith. Army officials have approved Rock Beyond Belief, a major atheist festival on the the main post parade field. This is more than just local organizing, but it will still be a great boon for all of the Ft Bragg personnel. Amy Monsky, with Camp Quest, and author Andy Thomson have spoken to the local group. In addition, Florida Atheists & Secular Humanists have chipped in for group t-shirts. Justin drafted a thorough report card for his group at the RBB Site: A+. Ray Bradley a leader with the local civilian group CNCAH has joined Justin as co-organizer for the MASH group. Both Ray and Justin are seeking recognition as lay leaders on Ft Bragg, but MAAF is still coordinating with officials to clarify policy.
Local groups continue to grow, but it is always difficult. MAAF has formalized its affiliate program and we continue to look for more local leaders around the world to build local atheist and humanist communities in the military. Send your local pictures and activities to MAAF for next month’s report.