Profile: Airman Taylor Grin

guest post by Airman Taylor Grin

When I enlisted in the Air Force, one of my chief concerns was how I would be treated as an atheist. After I swore in, one of the first things I did was sign up with the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and send in a message asking if they offered humanist services.

White Rope Humanist Taylor Grin

White Rope Humanist Taylor Grin

Jason Torpy, the president of the MAAF put me in touch with the leader of the Joint Base San Antonio chapter of MAAF, Vicki Gettman. Debbie Bienen of Freethinkers Association of Central Texas has also been a primary volunteer. I was told to work my way up the chain of command until they authorized the services. We were initially ready for a fight to bring humanism to the military.

It took about four weeks before the services started. I went through my chain of command, from the chaplain to the commander encountering minor resistance. Throughout the process, it really didn’t feel like there was discrimination about my services, and the Chaplain expressed that he was trying to overcome the hurdle that humanism wasn’t recognized by the military as a religion.

MAAF note: The military does not recognize religions. Chaplains often present this objection but never provide such a list of recognized religions nor a method to get on such a list. 

That said, it wasn’t a walk in the park. When the services finally did start  (through the command not chaplains), we were sequestered off in a foyer between several rooms where other religious services were held. This turned out to be a good thing, as many people leaving Buddhist services to the restroom discovered us and joined in. You’d be surprised how many atheists and humanists went to Buddhist services because they felt that was their only option.

It was amazing when we finally got the services started. Vicki expected only me to show up, but I actually went with seven other trainees, of whom six continued to go on a weekly basis. Each week my wingman and I would look forward to services, and I continued to receive mail of encouragement from the American Humanist Association and troop support organized through the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

From the original 8 of us, the Sunday services has swelled to more than forty attendees. They’re still using that foyer, standing room only, until the base provides more equal support in the form of a suitable location and advertisement to other trainees alongside other Sunday/religious services briefings that others enjoy.

I have moved on to tech school (job training at Goodfellow AFB), where I joined the Chaplain Assistant’s program, referred to as the “White Ropes.” We’re student leaders who support the religious rights of Airmen attending technical training, and also act as moral/ethical leaders amongst the Airmen.

I’m also working on becoming a lay leader within humanism, so that I can better provide support to humanist and non-religious Airmen on base. When I leave tech school, I plan to seek a commission with the Air Force, and pursue a master’s degree in international relations. Someday I’d like to work within the array of atheist and humanist advocacy groups in the US.

Vicki always said that what I did at basic training was monumental, but I’ve always felt like I was doing what came naturally to me. I’ve always been the sort to stand up for what I believe in, and fix things when they aren’t equal for everyone. I couldn’t have done what I did without the support of the MAAF, FACT, AHA and other people who sent me letters of support.

If I had a soapbox, I’d just say to anyone that the biggest way to make a difference is to openly represent humanism and atheism in a positive way. People are becoming more receptive to non-believers as contributing members of society. The more people see us out in the open, the less afraid and angry they’ll be about our non-belief. Intolerance is often born of ignorance if people don’t speak up.

MAAF note: Though he is modest, we will point out that Taylor was an honor graduate from Basic Training and two other humanists attending the Sunday meetings have also been honor graduates. Finally, a special thank-you to the command team who stepped in to provide support where chaplains would not.

Disclaimer: This website is not endorsed by the DoD or its affiliates. The statements made are of the individual’s alone and do not reflect policy of DoD or its affiliates. This is a series of profiles showing the face of MAAF around the globe. Airman Taylor Grin talks about his attempts to be humanist and to connect with other humanists in order to be a better airman. See the original post on his efforts for humanist services at Lackland Air Force basic training.

  • godlessveteran

    This young man will make a fine officer. Glad to see someone taking seriously the oath to uphold the Constitution.

  • CaseyLeavings

    A1C Grin, first let me welcome you to the U.S. Air Force. Thanks for your encouraging story. I’d like to discuss having you be a guest on the podcast I host, Sgt Skeptic. It is a podcast discussing atheism from a military perspective and I’m sure our listeners will find your story as compelling as I did. Please send me a private message on facebook if you’d be interested. Thanks!

  • Rex Talon

    Taylor, I hope you encounter very little resistance. I went to Goodfellow and am stationed in the San Antonio area. Here, the chaplain balks at the idea of a Humanist service, but that doesn’t stop him from coming to my desk every few weeks to talk to me about my Atheism. Since my religious preference came to light I’ve received everything from verbal expressions of disgust, and arguments to high fives. The most accepting people tend to be the youngest ones. This is a good sign. Now’s the time to be more accepted and push for equality. You’re at the front of a new tide, and when it breaks, it’s going to be huge. Good luck.

    • JasonTorpy

      Rex, there’s a good group in San Antonio that can provide support. Contact MAAF and I’ll put you in touch to help ‘educate’ this chaplain about where his(?) boundaries. Your chaplain can pick on someone he can’t pull rank on.

    • pmbxn

      Hello Rex,

      I totally know how you feel. When I finally decided to declare that I was an Atheist people started trying to “save me”. I absolutely hated it! I’ve heard many times that there are “no atheists in a fox hole”, that its “merry xmas” and not “happy holidays”, that if I don’t like “prayers during ceremonies I can leave the room” and even that I’m unAmerican! I ensured I did not say so help me god on my last enlistment and my devout christian coworker was in disbelief! However, I make a point to not be intimidated and to stick to my guns! The way I look at it, I’m fighting for the freedom to be an atheist.