Fired Air Force Commander Cited for Morale, Religion Issues
Col Daniel Murray was fired from his job as the 62nd Medical Squadron Commander at Joint Base Lewis McChord last September. As usual, the Air Force had said he was terminated for the non-descript and meaningless “loss of confidence in his ability to lead and command.”
Never to be denied a story that might sell newspapers, the Air Force Times filed a FOIA request for the details [emphasis added]:
Before he was removed from command…Col. Daniel Murray’s leadership was marked by concerns about his fairness, rock-bottom morale in the squadron, and his tendency to discuss religion in ways that made his airmen feel uncomfortable.
The report seems to indicate there wasn’t one individual thing that led to his removal, but rather a combination of complaints (official and unofficial gripes) that inspired the Air Force to fire him. It might be a rare instance of the vague “loss of confidence” actually being an apt excuse.
As the Air Force Times cleverly included in their headline, however, there were a couple of interesting tidbits.
It seems Col Murray is a Christian, and he let his subordinates know it.
Several airmen were bothered by how he ran his squadron and brought his Christian faith into the workplace.
While “several airmen” were “bothered”, the investigation determined Col Murray didn’t do anything wrong. In a twist, however, the investigator apparently chose to “chide” Col Murray anyway [emphasis added]:
While Murray has a right to express his religious beliefs, the investigator said that military officers are held to higher standards and must be aware that their authority “sometimes makes it necessary to be less transparent with personal faith beliefs, as subordinates may misconstrue the intent of the message.”
That’s a fascinating conclusion — and one that is entirely fiction. It is based on absolutely no rules, regulations, or policies whatsoever. In fact, it is arguably contrary to Air Force policies. In a twisted bit of self-contradicting logic, the investigator is essentially saying the military won’t censor Col Murray’s religious beliefs — but it does require Col Murray to censor his own beliefs.
That’s not remotely true — and the tenuous ground upon which such a statement stands is probably the reason the complaint wasn’t substantiated. Yet the investigator seemed motivated to editorialize regardless, which may provide a disturbing insight into either the investigator personally or the institution professionally.
Further [emphasis added]:
The investigator concluded it was likely he said, “there are no atheists in foxholes” during his first commander’s call in October 2016, as witnesses alleged.
That’ll get Jason Torpy’s attention, though when the retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it no one seemed to mind. And more [emphasis added]:
One witness told investigators that the first time they had a meeting, Murray said that “he not only answers to the Air Force but to a higher power.”
And they say that like it’s a bad thing. For the record, neither the atheist quote nor the “higher power” one are prejudicial or otherwise wrong. People can gripe, of course, but people can complain about anything.
A more interesting one was a quote from Proverbs:
One major said Murray sent her a chastising text message that included a Bible verse. That major, who is also a Christian, said Murray’s discussion about religion didn’t bother her until she received the text containing a passage from Proverbs and admonishing her to maintain “military bearing.”
“Your commander has been patient with you, but I have little use for threats and guilt trips from subordinates,” Murray said in a screenshot of text messages included in the report. “ ‘The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.’ Something I was reading yesterday that you should heed. Do not be foolish with your words.”
The text message is bereft of context (and it’s terribly awkward without it), and why anyone is conducting leadership-by-text-message at all is unclear. But it is worth noting the quote itself isn’t remotely religious (nor is it cited as such). Thus, it should be no more odd than quoting Shakespeare (which would still be odd) — unless there’s a background between the two officers left unexplained.
Finally, no good news story about a military Christian would be complete without an LGBT complaint [emphasis added]:
[A] transgender airman…alleged Murray made a remark in the meeting, in reference to mental illness and transgender status, that he “could not separate the two.”
The airman said in his complaint that he interpreted that to mean Murray thought all transgender people are mentally ill…
Murray disputed that characterization of his remarks…
Murray said he may have made a comment about transgender people having a statistically higher rate of anxiety and depression, and that “as his commander I was informing him that there were many helping agencies to assist him with his circumstances.”
The investigation substantiated the allegation of discriminatory harassment.
Note that Col Murray isn’t accused of making a religious statement, and he says he was referring to helping agencies — with regard to the “depression and anxiety” the Airman cited as causing him to want to leave the Air Force.
The conversation seems entirely plausible — and entirely reasonable. Even the Airman admitted it was how he interpreted the remarks — not precisely what Murray said. Yet somehow the investigator concluded it was “discriminatory harassment” — despite the fact no discrimination or harassment is said to have taken place.
Col Murray’s story isn’t a particularly strong one for any major point. It seems as though he wasn’t perceived as a particularly good leader — religion, sexuality, or anything else notwithstanding. Frankly, based solely on this reporting, it seems as though he just wasn’t well liked. If the military finds one of its commanders just doesn’t “fit” — or it otherwise vaguely “loses confidence” — then it is entirely within its authority to find a new commander.
That said, it is notable that an official Air Force investigation explicitly said a commander needed to censor his faith — something that had previously been an unspoken requirement — and one that was officially denied.
It is also notable that (the same investigator concluded) a disputed but otherwise benign conversation between a Christian commander and a sexually-identifying subordinate was “substantiated” as an actionable complaint.
If those two conclusions are representative of the greater Air Force and the larger DoD — and some on both sides of the ideological fence would say they are — it does not bode well for the ongoing conflict between religious freedom and erotic liberty in the US military.