Retired Airman Thrown Out of Ceremony Because of Religion

oscarIn a drama that can only be described as tragic and embarrassing, US Air Force NCOs physically tossed retired Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez out of a Travis AFB retirement ceremony (and the building in which it was being conducted) — even after the retiree, Chuck Roberson, had invited him to narrate his retirement flag ceremony. The video, made public first at John Q. Public and since repeated at FoxNews, is at once disturbing and enraging.

Retired LtCol Tony Carr does a decent job of hammering the shameful and inappropriate mistreatment of the retired SMSgt. What was interesting, though, was the Air Force’s official response. As quoted at FoxNews [emphasis added]:

The Air Force Reserve said in the statement it “respects and defends the right to free speech and religious expression.”

Religious expression? Why did the Air Force bring up religion, which didn’t appear to be at issue?

It turns out, it was not only an issue, it was the issue. As Tony Carr cited [emphasis added]:

The [Air Force’s] mention of religious expression [is] likely a reference to part of Rodriguez’s usual script — a part that touches on the traditional choice by many to associate the flag with deeper spiritual or religious meaning…Officials obviously contemplate that his use of the word “God” might somehow categorize the entire rendition as “religious expression,” thereby imposing limits and generating protections

In other words, three NCOs shoved a retired Airman out the door in the apparent mistaken belief that potential assault would be more professional and less offensive than allowing him to say the word “God,” as he’d been invited to do.  That’s quite a statement on the stigma attached to religion in the military.

An entire video of what Rodriguez was going to say is available here, apparently from Rodriguez’s own retirement ceremony.  His well-received monologue is emotional, forceful, and recited entirely from memory:

Carr accurately notes that an AFI was changed to prescribe the “only” authorized script during flag-folding “by Air Force personnel” — a change the Air Force publicly admitted it made only to end the then-“controversial” practice of ascribing religious meaning to some of the “folds” of the flag (controversial at the VA in 2011 and called a “screed” by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein last year).

This “scandal” is made all the more onerous because a retirement ceremony isn’t even a required Air Force function (see AFI 36-3203). It is performed at the pleasure of the retiring Airman, to honor him and his family. In this case, this honoree had specifically requested Rodriguez provide the flag narration.

Carr summarizes:

Chuck Roberson wanted Oscar Rodriguez at his retirement. He wanted him to participate. That should have been the end of the issue. The Air Force doesn’t have the authority to tell airmen how to think about or talk about the American flag during a folding ceremony.

But even if it did, the ceremony was over. This was an informal tribute designed by the honoree and his wingmen. Commanders too squeamish to bear witness should have excused themselves and taken no notice.

But even if they felt compelled to stay, they had no power to force a civilian invitee to sit down and shut up. He’s not subject to their authority.

But even if he were, his resistance to that authority could never legitimize the use of violence as a response to non-compliance.

There is almost certainly more to the story, including likely a history of bad blood between Rodriguez and the commander who ordered his ejection.

Regardless, it is unconscionable that uniformed members of the US Air Force physically manhandled a retired Senior NCO out of a retirement ceremony to which he had been invited because he stood up and talked.

It is beyond the pale that the reason they did so was he was going to refer to God.



  • Oscar rodriguez

    My name is SMSGT Oscar Rodriguez Jr. I thank you for this story. This Speach means so much to so many, and I hope you help in letting all the nation listen to its words, it may not be for everybody, this I understand, but every time I say these words I think about those that touched the hand of God, the sacrifices of so many and to keep the dreams of all Americans alive so they can find their happiness.

    • Oscar, I would’ve enjoyed hearing it first hand. I understand it’s that powerful.

      I could say I’m sorry, but those words seem sort of empty now, and not nearly enough. I just don’t know what else to say…..

    • Oscar, I narrated that particular script many times, Twice after the Air Force made the silly change in the AFI. I asked the retiree what they wanted and they both wanted the original script. I actually had a Col. ask me after the last one why I kept it as is. I said, it is what the RETIREE, the one we were honoring wanted. No questions further. Kudos to you for doing as requested by the person you were honoring!

    • When the day comes I retire it would be an honor to have you speak. Thanks for standing up to what is right.

    • Oscar – heard you narrate this script so many times in my career serving with you at Travis and touches me everytime. Not just about the script being narrated but the way IT is being narrated. It would have been an honor for to have you narrate this script during my retirement..

      Thanks for standing up!!

    • I love your version and was wondering what happened to you. I didn’t realize the change in verbiage, and no flag folding ceremony can compare once they have seen it while you narrate. If you are still in the area in a year and a half, I would be honored to have you at my retirement.

    • Master Sergeant Rodriguez, what is missing from this story? Wow I know this recitation, and believe it is totally fitting for a retirement ceremony, there must be mitigating factors. Did you have a previous history with the command staff at Travis? Had you been asked by command staff not to be there? Clearly there were security personnel station there who were specifically instructed to prevent you from delivering this recitation. What is the backstory here?

    • Thank you having the courage to follow your heart even though so many seemed to be feel threatened. Threatened by the words of a loving God? What have we come to?

      The other posts give me hope that all is not lost!

      Thank you for your service, as well.

    • CMSGT (ret) Mills

      I am both ashamed and embarrassed at how those enlisted members (I refuse to refer to them as NCOs) broke the law – don’t care who ordered what, they most definitely lacked authority to do what they did.

      If there was a concern about the use of “God” all they had to do was announce at the end of the official ceremony prescribed by AFI that the official part was ended and there would be personal comments / remarks to follow.

      I’m really sorry there were apparently no competent First Sergeants or Command Chiefs in the room that could and SHOULD have intervened and stopped this before it got so far out of hand.

      You deserved better and I’m sincerely disappointed that ANY SNCO was disrespected the way you were – – you deserved better.

  • Godspeed SMSGT Rodriguez II! Muy tres grande juevos mi amigo! I am also a veteran airman, and I fully understand, respect, salute and (with profound brotherly pride) defend your faithful service, chutzpah and unapologetic military bearing without hesitation. Well done Bro’ (in arms)! We can only hope that the ghosts of “Hap” Arnold past will displace the “ghosts” that fill the AF Officer Corps. God Help Us!

    Via Con Dios

  • Oscar,
    I’m a retired MSgt. in the 301st at Travis. What happened to you was an abomination. It was disgraceful.

    Have NO DOUBT that 95% of us support you and what you tried to do, 100%!

    Proud to call you a BROTHER! And thank you for your service!

    Shame on the AF, that CC and his SNCO goons. That was well beyond the pale.

  • The disrespect shown not only to the member retiring and his family but also to the invited guest speaker by the commander is the most disgusting display I have ever seen, especially since it took place during the sacred Flag Ceremony.
    I do hope that the commander and his enlisted force who took part in this travesty are severely reprimanded and/or removed for conduct unbecoming.

  • CMSgt (r) Rick Pasamante

    Oscar I enjoyed your speech. You were clearly a victim of an individual abusing their authority and exemplifying poor leadership. All the parties involved in having you removed should be ashamed of themselves for ruining a special occasion for the retiree and his family. I really hope they are held accountable for their actions.

  • Wish someone would identify the Squadron Commander and his thug NCO’s.
    Public shaming is more than an internal investigation will produce.

  • I’m an Atheist and I wouldn’t have objected to your speech. What an asshole CC, hope he is fully reprimanded.

  • Oscar, if you’re interested in telling your story on JQP, please don’t hesitate to reach out at I have resisted reaching out to you because I think you should consult with an attorney before discussing your case too much in open media … but I also believe strongly there is a sizable public interest in making your perspective available for all to consider. What happened at Chuck Roberson’s retirement has the rare quality of being stupid, wrong, and illegal.

  • Let’s see if those responsible for removing the SMSgt Rodriguez have the guts to come on here and explain their actions. This attitude by senior leadership is just one of many reasons why I retired last September. I am so glad I no longer work for Air Force and regret that I talked my son in joining almost eight years ago. It’s broken in so many ways.

  • Col (Ret) Adalberto Rivera

    What was done to you is completely unacceptable and shameful. A lack of respect to you, the retiree, and everybody else present there. The commander should be relieved from his command.

    • Oscar, I plan on retiring in 2020, after I hit the 33 year mark. Would you please speak at my ceremony? Security will be provided. Thank you for your service and for standing by your convictions!

    • CMSgt (Ret) Johnie Johnson

      I agree with Col. Rivera that this was a disgrace and the commander should be relieved of command.

  • This story just proves you cannot always believe what you read! The Airforce is being kind to you Mr. Rodriguez!

    • How so? This should be entertaining. Especially since you remained anonymous…

    • By all means please elaborate your extensive knowledge of the incident and how it differs from what has been described here.

    • You do realize the UCMJ is to abide by the US Constitution, right? Should the AF disregard the UCMJ as well as the Constitution?

      Not only does this AFI impose restriction on our right of religious liberty, but it allowed a senior officer to impose that unconstitutional restriction during a private and personal ceremony that was held for the honorable retirement of a service member. If you think that’s a just response to the lawful exercise of a constitutional right, then imagine being apprehended or thrown out for comment above.

  • I am ashamed of what my Air Force has become. I am proud of my 32 years of service but todays lack of leadership in all services is beyond words.

  • Disappointed SNCO

    I can’t for the life of me believe all the extremely over weight NCOs and SNCOs in that video chose this as the topic to take a stand on. They should be protesting how fat the members of that squadron are. Good speach sir! It sickens me that these clowns were there to ruin it.

  • Elise Faucheux

    Dear SMSGT Rodriguez, Oscar, (Retired),

    I was apalled to read about this incident. It is absolutely mind-boggling to contemplate how the military could disrespect one of its own, who served with honor and distinction before his own retirement. In my humble opinion, it was just plain wrong!
    Especially since you were personally invited by the honoree to deliver your address!

    To the powers that be (Commander, or whomever) who dishonored SMSGT Rodriguez, Oscar, by your actions, this American Patriot, “Daughter” (DAR), and civilian is extremely upset. That was NOT well-done of you!
    For goodness sakes! Our country was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles (aka God)! Our Patriots fought, died, gave their fortunes and everything possible to gain our freedom, and to establish the United States of America, a free Democratic Republic, which through the Grace and Mercy of God broke away from under the rule of a “tyrant” and formed a free country in which “We, the People” have a voice. One in which the “leaders” govern only through the vote of the majority, and are elected to serve the People by the laws set forth in our U. S. Constitution.

    Remember these words?.” WE hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by our Creator ( aka.. God), with unalienable rights… etc. ”

    Of course SMSGT Rodriguez, Oscar (Ret.) had evey right to mention God and to reference the sacrifices and blood from men and women who, throughout the course of our history, have shed theirs and dedicated their lives to service of our country. America’s Patriots/heroes who pledged their all in their “sacred oath” upon entering the military, to “Serve. Protect and Defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies of the state, both foreign and domestic, So help me, GOD!”

    So I query, with that in mind, just How and Why, and by what right have you to deny this battle-hardened warrior, this SMSGT, (Retired) who served our nation with honor and distinction, and your brother-in-arms, his right to honor our flag and God in his speech at the request of a fellow warrior who was celebrating his own retirement!?!

    You, powers that be, dishonored our military, these two brave airmen and retirees, and family members, your Nation, God, those whom you ordered to carry out your dumb orders, and yourselves by your own hands!

    Shame on you! One would think that you would have been proud to have your fellow brethren-in-arms so honored! I am extremely upset by this.

    In my humble opinion, you owe both of these airmen a public apology… in letters penned to them, in the news papers, in the tv news and on the radio! That’s how horrible I think your actions were!

    My dad, a WWII Midway Gunnery Sergeant, who also fought with distinction, would be greatly upset and saddened by your disrespect for your fellow servicemen, you powers that be,, were he alive today! This is a very sad action and a petty one! You (powers that be), should be reprimanded for it by the military. As that is not likely to happen, I have stated my humble opinion in this note.

    God bless you, SMSGT Rodriguez, Oscar (Retired) for the respect you have for God, country, your flag, your fellow patriots, and your fellow Americans! I commend you and thank you for your service to our country. You are an honor to know of!

    We, “way down yonder in New Orleans” , home of the National World War II Museum, and all in the state of Louisiana honor our military!

  • Elise Faucheux

    If I was out of order for my previous statement, Christian Fighter Newspaper, I apologize. But I just read this post, and felt so strongly that this was wrong to have happen to a retired Airman, who, just by the number of years of his service, had every right to deliver a speech asked of him by a fellow Airman who was being retired in a celebration and special ceremony. I just had to speak out!
    My opinions were my own! They are mine, and are not driven by any agenda or voiced by any organization. They are my own. They should reflect only my patriotic fervor, I hope.

  • As a former US Army Military Police officer I would have effected an arrest on those airmen involved for assaulting a civilian. Unbelievable … God Bless you and thank you for your Air Service.