Where Military Service Leaves Off, Music Begins

I am Chief Master Sergeant Rich Brown, a recent retiree from the United States Air Force.  I originally entered the service in December of 1984, specializing as an Independent Duty Medical Technician (4N000 SEI 496).  Since then, I have served all over the world, most recently at RAF Lakenheath in England.  I am retiring to Colorado Springs, Colorado where I plan to attend Colorado State University-Pueblo to study Jazz Performance.


Performance by various Tops In Blue members.

I spent part of my enlistment on a world tour with the Air Force Entertainment’s Tops in Blue, playing trumpet.  Tops in Blue serves as an expeditionary entertainment unit to provide quality entertainment from within Air Force resources for the Air Force family, with priority to Air Force personnel stationed worldwide at remote and deployed locations while simultaneously promoting community relations, supporting recruiting efforts and serving as ambassadors for the United States of America and the United States Air Force.  Since its first world tour in 1953, the group has also performed on film, produced albums, and performed for heads of state and dignitaries throughout the world.  It was one of my favorite tours of duty, as I really enjoyed performing for all of the Airmen.  I’m looking forward to focusing on music again.

Most recently, my family and I have been active members of the Lakenheath Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.  As an atheist, I appreciate the reassurance I receive as a member that I am part of a larger whole seeking to maintain constitutional protections for non-religious military members.  Since the majority of my family are ministers, it has caused some tensions in the past.  Theology is a non-topic now when visiting my relatives.

As for my professional life, I have been able to be the shield and buffer between religious commanders and the non-religious.  I think the non-religious have felt more confident with an openly atheistic Chief Master Sergeant to support them.  Although I can’t prove it, I am 99.9% sure I was denied a superintendent position as a result of my non-religious beliefs.  There were two of us up for it, and I was the most senior and the most qualified candidate.  However, both the Commander and other candidate were extremely fundamentalist Christian.  I had several run-ins with the other candidate over his overt proselytizing on the job to his subordinates.  The best part?  He had to step down just four month later, and I ended up in the position as his replacement.

One of the USAF policy changes I’m very concerned about is the plan to roll out the new “Comprehensive Airman Feedback” form.  It is supposed to have supervisors assess their Airmen using the “four domains of wellness” model.  As this model includes a “spiritual” pillar, it is rife with the potential for abuse by zealous supervisors and commanders.  It will also direct these supervisors to “have deep, meaningful” conversations on topics such as personal relationships and finances.  It really worries me as my two sons are also considering enlisting in the next two years.

One issue in the military I would be happy to change would be how the military utilizes the Chaplain corps. I don’t think the armed forces, or any other government branch (local, state or federal) should employ chaplains at all.  The only exception to this should be in locations where it truly is essential to mitigate an impediment to free exercise that is created by military or other governmental service. Absent that very unlikely circumstance (i.e., no chaplains), the chaplaincy must be inclusive in supporting everyone.  The current situation is inherently biased against the non-believer, because it provides and/or withholds material support based solely on the basis of religious belief.

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