Col Linell Letendre to be Next USAFA Dean

The US Air Force Academy announced that Col Linell Letendre was the sole “finalist” to become the next Dean of Faculty at USAFA:

“This is wonderful news for our cadets, our faculty, and our Academy,” said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria. “Linell’s leadership and commitment to world-class education and leader development will be invaluable to the USAFA team. She has a tremendous perspective that will integrate and elevate our institution and our Air Force leaders of tomorrow.”

The elevation of Col Letendre, a USAF JAG, to Permanent Professor and Department Head was highlighted here four years ago, largely because of her public record on issues of religious liberty within the Air Force. She was, for example, one of a few Air Force lawyers who advised the Air Force on Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s complaints against ChristianFighterPilot.com.  She has reportedly towed the official Air Force line even when it conflicted with her personal opinion, though her personal opinion is fairly well-known — as well as sometimes contrary to official policies and legal precedent. As previously noted [emphasis added],

Letendre has said military members “absolutely” have the right to religious free exercise in their personal capacities…and she has allowed that such free exercise can extend even to potentially official settings and in uniform.

On the other hand, Letendre has also made clear that she feels prayer at military functions is indefensible constitutionally

Letendre is also on record buying in to Mikey Weinstein’s claim about the Trijicon gun sights, talking vaguely at one point about “how many problems they caused” without forthrightly acknowledging the Bible-verse serial numbers caused exactly zero problems; Letendre apparently accepted conjecture as fact.

Perhaps more troubling, [then-] LtCol Letendre has demonstrated a somewhat negative attitude toward what even she admits is one of the more common legal issues of the current age: the potential conflict between convictions of faith and the government’s acceptance of homosexuality. For example, when presenting a hypothetical conflict between a “religious” troop and the repeal of DADT, Letendre repeatedly set up the offended troop as one who “refused to serve” with a homosexual. That straw man minimizes the actual conflicts of those who feel the moral obligation not to affirm homosexuality, or those who express religious beliefs in opposition to it.

Col Letendre also famously equated those who morally oppose homosexuality with racists, saying congressional bills written to protect religious freedom were equivalent to racist legislation in the 1940s.

More recently, Col Letendre co-authored a short paper that attempted to convey a perspective on the conflict of “Right vs Right,” or when professional obligations and personal beliefs are in opposition. Regrettably, the paper implied a problematic conclusion — that is, professional obligations simply overrule personal beliefs. Period.

The military oath of office demands that servicemembers be willing and able to subordinate their personal beliefs to their professional obligations.

There is insufficient room here to discuss the problems with the thesis presented by Col Letendre and her co-author, Dr. Martin Cook. Briefly, take one recent example:

Did Col Leland Bohannon have a professional obligation to sign a spouse appreciation certificate for a retiring subordinate who was homosexual, despite his conflicting personal beliefs?

That scenario does one of two things, depending on your response:

  • It takes the wind out of the sails of the condescendingly simple proposition by Col Letendre and Cook; or,
  • It elevates “professional obligation” to mindless compliance, which creates an environment of veritable hostility toward individual character — one of the core development areas of USAFA and the cornerstone to American military honor.

For the record, you’ll recall the official Air Force response resulted in the former, while one could argue the Letendre/Cook paper argues for the latter.

Barring an unusual occurrence, Col Letendre will soon be BGen Letendre, USAFA Dean of Faculty — essentially a “life” position until she chooses to retire. Her “personal beliefs” (and her “professional obligations”), in addition to her occasional ideological alignment with Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, could make the next few years…interesting.

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3 comments

  • Thank you for referencing Letendre & Cook’s excellent article in Parameters. Her argument is one I would want all Airmen to understand and internalize. The article can be summarized nicely, in its own words: “… If [an] individual strongly feels he or she can not or will not subordinate [their moral] beliefs to his or her professional obligations, the proper conclusion should cause the individual to leave the profession.”

    Your critique of her article presents a false dichotomy between “taking the wind out of her argument” and “elevating professional obligations to mindless compliance.” The first choice is dismissive: her argument is both highly familiar to students of military ethics as well as robustly supported in her article.

    The second choice is a false generalization or even an outright straw-man. It denies the nuance and thoughtfulness that Letendre & Cook apply to a heartfelt dilemma. The article clearly addresses the difference between the automaticity of a non-professional, and the value-based followership of a professional: “when one joins a profession, one forfeits a certain degree of personal freedom of expression and moral autonomy,” is not the same as “elevating professional obligations to mindless compliance,” clearly.

    Colonel Bohannon, an abhorable bigot in my book, got away with something that I foresee will not be tolerated in the Air Force in the coming years. I am grateful that leaders like Colonel Letendre will play a strong role in eradicating his type of bigotry from my Air Force.

    • @Mac Sean

      Funny how you follow up a call for “nuance and thoughtfulness” with a display of brazen intolerance. Perhaps you should open “your book” to a bit more open-mindedness.

      Her article failed in the very area you fail to address: Moral beliefs and faith inform one’s personal character. How do you tell someone to have a strong moral character sometimes, but not always?

      How do you tell them to subjugate their moral character to professional obligations in some cases, but to subjugate professional obligation to moral character in others?

      The answer is simple. You don’t. That’s the nuance and thoughtfulness you’re lacking.

  • Michael Martin

    The “elephant in the room” that Col Letendre ignores is Almighty God.

    She says, “The military oath of office demands that servicemembers be willing and able to subordinate their personal beliefs to their professional obligations.” At the Nuremberg trials it was affirmed that a higher law, the law of God, supersedes “both personal beliefs” and “professional obligations.”

    You cannot pit “personal beliefs” and “professional obligations” against one another, ALWAYS deciding in favor of the latter, as Col Letendre does, without danger of running afoul of the “elephant.”

    Even though we are not talking about war crimes in this particular case, a foundational principle applies across the board: God’s law is higher than either “personal beliefs” or “professional obligations.” When these two considerations come into conflict, the conflict MUST be resolved by reference to the higher law of God.

    Col Letendre has completely ignored that higher law, demanding that her own personal beliefs about “professional obligations” be the standard that others are obligated to obey. I would ask, when did God die and make her, or any other human being, the supreme judge?

    Article VI of the United States Military Code of Conduct concludes with these words, “…I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.” Those two must go hand-in-hand, with God guiding the way. Our Declaration of Independence, recognizing our Sovereign God, preceded our Constitution and is its foundation. Our “professional obligation” as demonstrated by the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Code of Conduct, and two-hundred years of precedent, all affirm that prayer at military functions is entirely consistent with our “professional obligations.”

    Beyond prayer, there are other moral obligations consistent with God’s law that are also under consideration in this whole debate. God’s law gives needed clarity and proper standards of professional conduct to all of these additional moral considerations, certainly not Col Letendre, Gen Goodwin, Mikey Weinstein or any others like them.

    Col Letendre ignores God, and under the guise of “professional obligation,” has the unmitigated gall to demand that the rest of us do the same. The orders of military superiors are supreme. She, as the new Dean of Faculty at the Air Force Academy, will be sowing seeds in the minds of cadets that may metastasize into something very ugly in the years ahead. Remember Nuremberg.

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