Pagan Veterans Seek Recognition
While some seem to imply that only Christians associate their religious ideology with their military service, public examples on all sides demonstrate that is not the case.
A Pennsylvania paper recently covered a local story in which a group of pagan veterans are encouraging those with similar beliefs to, in their words, “come out of the broom closet.” Charles Arnold is the “‘national commander’ of the Pagan Veterans of the United States,” which he formed earlier this year. He says pagan veterans “number about 180.”
The article quotes Eric Roberts, who says he had “Druid” on his dog tags when he was in the military. While he says “the military is a Christian organization” and his career may have suffered as a result, he seems to defend the military by saying it’s not as bad as the civilian sector:
“I don’t think discrimination is as common in the military as it is in the private sector,” Roberts said. “A lot of it is fear. A lot of it is ignorance. Hollywood has done a very good job of making us the bad guy…There are pagans who are still in the broom closet.”
Arnold goes out of his way to describe his organization as similar to the Jewish War Veterans, Catholic War Veterans, and Native American Veterans organizations. (There does not appear to be a generic “Christian/Protestant” war veterans organization.) Arnold’s own website does not yet appear to be operational.
Details within the article reveal the reason for the difficulties that the government, and the military in particular, have in providing “official” spiritual support for such belief systems. In short, there is no “organized” pagan religion. Even the word “pagan” tends to be an umbrella term for a group of ideological systems that are, by nature, individualized. This leads to the difficulty of those who would like to see a pagan Chaplain in the military; since the Department of Defense requires Chaplains to be “ordained,” if you will, by their religious body, and pagans have no such organization, the DoD cannot recognize a Chaplain applicant. (In 2007, a Christian Army Chaplain converted to Wicca and tried to become a Wiccan Chaplain. Since he was unable to obtain the required ecclesiastical “endorsement,” because no recognized organization exists from which to get it, he was removed from the Chaplains corps.)
Pagans have not been ignored by either the culture or the military. They gathered in Washington DC in 2007 to recognize the Veterans Administration’s decision to allow pentacles on VA headstones. It is fairly common to see announcements regarding pagan groups within the construct of a military chapel program, as well.
Both in the military and as distinguished veterans they have every right to publicly exercise their faiths while simultaneously acknowledging their military service. Though they are few in number and relatively withdrawn, as Arnold admits, the US military does actively permit them to practice their beliefs and provides them the support it can to do so.