Memorial Day: My Brief Military Service

I was a chaplain in the Air Force for two years. I served in several places — California, Texas, Alabama, and Colorado. It was OK. It was during the Cold War so there wasn’t open conflict, although there were several questionable things going on at the time. Some of the more memorable things were 1) teaching chaplains to march and 2) disobeying a direct order from a superior officer.

Chaplain School, at that time, was at the War College in Montgomery, Alabama. It was pretty weird for me. At meals in the officer “mess” I would sit with other chaplains but surrounded by American officers as well as others from Allied countries. All studying how to win wars.

One day, in the heat of summer, we were taken out to the flight line and this sergeant with more stripes than could easily fit on his sleeves began to holler at us to line up. We had to count off. We had to line up: 1s together, 2s together, 3s together, 4s together. We were told to stand at attention. Some of us had previous military experience and knew what to do but most of us didn’t have a clue. In other words, we looked awful.

Then this sergeant began to shout orders in some language that the previous military chaps understood so I just followed their lead. At one point the sergeant shouted an order and the fellow in front of me abruptly turned around and we smashed into one another. The sergeant yelled for all of us to stop, then got up into my face and began to yell. I could tell he was angry but I swear he was not speaking English.

Probably the shining moment in my military career was in Sacramento, California at McClellan Air Force Base. As a new chaplain, I was very low in rank. It was said that I was at such a low rank that I had to salute anything that moved. In the Chapel I made it a serious effort of mine to serve the enlisted men. I did whatever I could to close the gaps between Airmen, Airmen First Class, Sergeants and me.

One day another chaplain, a full Colonel, asked me to lunch. He asked me where I wanted to eat. I’m sure he was expecting me to say one of the very nice venues where officers ate. But I chose the “enlisted mess.” He was clearly put-out by this and let me know it in no uncertain terms but I held my ground.

There was a line getting into the enlisted mess. The Colonel went straight to the front. The enlisted persons made way for him, of course. He was a Colonel. I stayed back in my place in the line. Noticing that I was not with him, he turned and motioned me forward. I said, “No. I’m staying here.” Then he ordered me to join him. I refused again.

This was insubordination and that was effectively the end of my military career!

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