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Thread: Airman denied re-enlistment for refusing to say "so help me God"

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    Senior Member Stalwart's Avatar
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    A sort of related issue (picking battles etc.) in the Navy: African-American female Sailor (HM2 / E-5 with 12 years of service) was told her hair did not conform to standards, refused to modify her hair style and was discharged.

    Navy Times: http://www.navytimes.com/article/201...-HM2-her-locks

    I heard about this and for the most part got her point, but as the OP said, she chose to fight it in the wrong way and as a result was administratively separated. In the Navy Times article: “I don’t think I should be told that I have to straighten my hair in order to be within what they think the regulations are, and I don’t think I should have to cover it up with a wig,” she said."

    I would think that at some point along the road from when this first came up to her being processed for separation, someone checked what the grooming regulation was and confirmed she was not being erroneously picked on. At that point, even though she had worn her hair that way for years, she was informed what the right way to do it is ... and the choice was put on her. Maybe she didn't really want to stay in, but if she did ... to get separated after 12 years over this seems like a loss on her part.
    Last edited by Stalwart; 09-06-2014 at 10:50 AM.
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    Senior Member technomage1's Avatar
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    I've always ommitted the "so help me god" part. If they require that it is a religious test for office, as prohibited by article 6 of the US constitution. I wouldn't - and won't - say it either. Guess it's fortunate I'm enlisted out to past my retirement date.

    To those who think it's a pick your battle issue...you want the guy to lie in his oath? That's the last place you want anyone to lie.

    The statue should be amended to allow people to omit "so help me god"...or better yet, amend it so that people can add "so help me god" instead of making it the default version.
    Newton's First Law of Motion

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    Senior Member Stalwart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by technomage1 View Post
    I've always ommitted the "so help me god" part. If they require that it is a religious test for office, as prohibited by article 6 of the US constitution. I wouldn't - and won't - say it either. Guess it's fortunate I'm enlisted out to past my retirement date.

    To those who think it's a pick your battle issue...you want the guy to lie in his oath? That's the last place you want anyone to lie.
    And if you don't want to, I don't think you should be required to, I have not read the section of the USC on it nor do I have an answer why if there has not been a change in the law the USAF decided to tighten the rules on it. If it is the law, I would just be curious what prompted the change in enforcement. I know in the USN it is allowed to "swear" or "affirm", and we don't require people to state "so help me God." When I reenlist people, I simply ask if they would like that part or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by technomage1 View Post
    The statue should be amended to allow people to omit "so help me god"...or better yet, amend it so that people can add "so help me god" instead of making it the default version.
    I agree. I would say the law is probably in need of amending & if this issue picks up traction (attention in the media) it could happen very quickly and be incorporated into the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act. Trust me, a Capitol Hill staffer can get something plugged in to the NDAA pretty quickly.
    The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

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    Senior Member technomage1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stalwart View Post
    I agree. I would say the law is probably in need of amending & if this issue picks up traction (attention in the media) it could happen very quickly and be incorporated into the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act. Trust me, a Capitol Hill staffer can get something plugged in to the NDAA pretty quickly.
    But will they bother? Honestly, I see it playing out more in the lines of congress people screaming "so help me god" and swearing up and down to keep this "cherished American tradition" in the language since it's "historical" (since 1962). Sadly enough, I've seen the constitution pissed on enough in my day to think this one will need to go to the courts.

    I hope I'm wrong. But if I'd bet a steak dinner the right thing isn't going to happen without a long, legal fight.
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    Banned sandsjames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stalwart View Post
    A sort of related issue (picking battles etc.) in the Navy: African-American female Sailor (HM2 / E-5 with 12 years of service) was told her hair did not conform to standards, refused to modify her hair style and was discharged.

    Navy Times: http://www.navytimes.com/article/201...-HM2-her-locks

    I heard about this and for the most part got her point, but as the OP said, she chose to fight it in the wrong way and as a result was administratively separated. In the Navy Times article: “I don’t think I should be told that I have to straighten my hair in order to be within what they think the regulations are, and I don’t think I should have to cover it up with a wig,” she said."

    I would think that at some point along the road from when this first came up to her being processed for separation, someone checked what the grooming regulation was and confirmed she was not being erroneously picked on. At that point, even though she had worn her hair that way for years, she was informed what the right way to do it is ... and the choice was put on her. Maybe she didn't really want to stay in, but if she did ... to get separated after 12 years over this seems like a loss on her part.
    I was told the following on more than one occasion:

    "If your boss tells you to jump in a lake, you should be soaking wet when you go complain about it". In other words, as long as it's not an order that is going to cause harm to someone, you should comply, then fight it from there. Not saying that this is mandatory, but it does seem like a smart move.

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    Banned sandsjames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by technomage1 View Post
    But will they bother? Honestly, I see it playing out more in the lines of congress people screaming "so help me god" and swearing up and down to keep this "cherished American tradition" in the language since it's "historical" (since 1962). Sadly enough, I've seen the constitution pissed on enough in my day to think this one will need to go to the courts.

    I hope I'm wrong. But if I'd bet a steak dinner the right thing isn't going to happen without a long, legal fight.
    I'm sure we would hear that argument from some, but I bet it would still get changed pretty quickly. Just thinking about the oath when you are a witness in court, that was modified pretty (relatively) easily without a lot of pushback.

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    Senior Member Stalwart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandsjames View Post
    I was told the following on more than one occasion:

    "If your boss tells you to jump in a lake, you should be soaking wet when you go complain about it". In other words, as long as it's not an order that is going to cause harm to someone, you should comply, then fight it from there. Not saying that this is mandatory, but it does seem like a smart move.
    In some ways yes and in some ways no. What you are talking about is a "who/what model" -- tell the 'who' the 'what' that they will be doing. Based on my background (infantry, a lot of combat experience) there are times that unquestioned obedience to orders is truly needed & who/what is the best way of doing things.

    Outside of those situations, as a senior enlisted and now officer, I more use a "why/who/what model"; explaining the 'why' to the 'who' and the 'what' we are going to do to accomplish our goal. I find that explaining the 'why' also helps build decision makers and ultimately leaders. Admittedly, some situations and/or people don't need or warrant the 'why' explained, but when I can I explain it. I think people genuinely appreciate knowing what is going on & being informed.

    Circa late 90's General Krulak (the Commandant of the Marine Corps) initiated a concept of the 'Strategic Corporal' and how the junior Marine leader -- in his example a Cpl (E-4) Fire Team leader has strategic value in the "Three Block War" and how the junior leader has to be decisive and have the ability to think. Even as a young Marine, I was not trained to be an absolute automaton (contrary to a wide perception about Marines), I was trained to think, to speak my mind, to find solutions to problems and to provide solutions to my bosses.

    If your boss tells you to go jump in the lake, at what point do you think you should be asking the 'why' to the process? To me it is situational ... in some cases you may be (I have before) been told to do something that was a blatant violation of regulations, do you blindly do what your boss told you and then complain later about it or do you say "No." In the issue of the Airman and the oath, or the Sailor and her hair ... if they decide to not "jump in the lake", how they decide to tell their boss "No" or to ask "Why?" is important, if you are going to not do something you are told, even if you are correct in refusing ... HOW you refuse can keep you out of a different & sometimes larger set of problems.
    The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

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    Senior Member Stalwart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by technomage1 View Post
    But will they bother? Honestly, I see it playing out more in the lines of congress people screaming "so help me god" and swearing up and down to keep this "cherished American tradition" in the language since it's "historical" (since 1962). Sadly enough, I've seen the constitution pissed on enough in my day to think this one will need to go to the courts.

    I hope I'm wrong. But if I'd bet a steak dinner the right thing isn't going to happen without a long, legal fight.
    I think you could expect a fair number of Members of Congress to vehemently defend the oath as it is written. How many do you think knew (before this became news) that the Air Force was enforcing the law they way they are -- or that in the Navy (at least my little corner of it) it is not enforced the same way -- I would guess few to none.

    Last year's NDAA very quietly changed the wording of UCMJ article 125/Sodomy to forcible sodomy (assault) to better align with homosexuals serving openly -- this change to tradition was done with nearly no resistance in committee or on the floor of either chamber.
    The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

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    Banned sandsjames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stalwart View Post
    In some ways yes and in some ways no. What you are talking about is a "who/what model" -- tell the 'who' the 'what' that they will be doing. Based on my background (infantry, a lot of combat experience) there are times that unquestioned obedience to orders is truly needed & who/what is the best way of doing things.

    Outside of those situations, as a senior enlisted and now officer, I more use a "why/who/what model"; explaining the 'why' to the 'who' and the 'what' we are going to do to accomplish our goal. I find that explaining the 'why' also helps build decision makers and ultimately leaders. Admittedly, some situations and/or people don't need or warrant the 'why' explained, but when I can I explain it. I think people genuinely appreciate knowing what is going on & being informed.

    Circa late 90's General Krulak (the Commandant of the Marine Corps) initiated a concept of the 'Strategic Corporal' and how the junior Marine leader -- in his example a Cpl (E-4) Fire Team leader has strategic value in the "Three Block War" and how the junior leader has to be decisive and have the ability to think. Even as a young Marine, I was not trained to be an absolute automaton (contrary to a wide perception about Marines), I was trained to think, to speak my mind, to find solutions to problems and to provide solutions to my bosses.

    If your boss tells you to go jump in the lake, at what point do you think you should be asking the 'why' to the process? To me it is situational ... in some cases you may be (I have before) been told to do something that was a blatant violation of regulations, do you blindly do what your boss told you and then complain later about it or do you say "No." In the issue of the Airman and the oath, or the Sailor and her hair ... if they decide to not "jump in the lake", how they decide to tell their boss "No" or to ask "Why?" is important, if you are going to not do something you are told, even if you are correct in refusing ... HOW you refuse can keep you out of a different & sometimes larger set of problems.
    Basically it comes down to what the (for AF) AFI says. If it's a judgment call as to the interpretation of the AFI then, yes, asking why before complying is fine. If it's an AFI that can only possibly be interpreted right way, then one needs to comply with it, raise the challenge, and hope for change...again, as long as it's not illegal or harmful.

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    Senior Member TJMAC77SP's Avatar
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    As I said before the "swear (or affirm)" part is at the beginning and the "so help me God" is at the end. Two separate issues. I repeated the oath on several occasions but don't ever remember being asked if I wanted to say that last part or omit it.

    I do agree that it should not be mandatory but I also won't tell you now, when there are no consequences, that I would have refused to say it if I had been so inclined.

    It seems a very minor issue but I guess matters of principle often start that way.
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