Our Silent Vigil

“Our Silent Vigil” by Jeffrey Yelverton of Fort Jackson

If you are in the military you are no stranger to Benedictions. As an agnostic, it was a bit of a change and a culture shock. Coming from the liberal midwest (Minneapolis), religion was not the most popular thing. It was considered a relic of the past, perpetuating outdated values that limited a person’s freedom and hid bigotry, sexism, and racism under the banner of “Good teaching of the Lord.”

I joined the military to create and share music (Specialty 42R). I knew I was entering a work place that would be let’s say more conservative in the views of faith. It was even worse than I suspected.  I was leaving my home where I had a shared belief with many of the people around to go to a place where my belief was looked down at as if I worshipped the devil. When all I wanted to say was, “I can’t worship something I don’t believe in!”

I was lucky enough to have joined the military at an older age which allowed me to keep my agnostic views despite feelings of alienation. Going to Ft. Jackson for BCT and then having it be my first duty station means that I have been spending a lot of time in the US’s covenanted “Bible Belt.”

As an agnostic I, have always felt just a little out of place in the military. You do not have to see the statistics to know that the military is filled primarily with Christians.  As a bandsman, I sat through more ceremonies than most, and I hear a lot and I mean a lot of benedictions. As the crowd bows their head, I keep mine up. I refuse to pretend to pray because it is in authentic to my beliefs and disrespectful to others who do have faith. Though many might think it is rude, I think keeping my head up is right and more respectful.

While “at ease” (a more permissive military position than “attention”), I casually look out towards the crowd (and some in my own unit, thankfully) to see the fellow citizens that get to “exercise their freedom of religion” by not praying. Occasionally, I nod at others, the MAAF nod, and we are together, alone in a crowd. Seeing them, I feel grateful that I am not the only one. I am not the only solider that can protect and defend the constitution, the country, and its people without a god on his side.  With others like me, I will always keep my head high in every benediction.

We will be silent to show respect to others, but we will not pretend to pray. We will keep a silent vigil for all the atheist, agnostic, humanist and various other nonbelievers who feel alone in a crowd.

Jeffrey C Yelverton, Jr. is a graduate of Saint Cloud State University with a degree in Music Performance – Instrument French Horn. He enlisted in the United States Army as a Bandsman (42R) in 2014. Jeffrey is also the POC for MAAF at Ft. Jackson. Other than playing music Jeffrey is also a music historian as well holding the position of Unit Historian for his unit.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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