In addition to his demanding daily commitments, a fighter pilot will inevitably be called upon to deploy—meaning he will travel to another destination to accomplish even more responsibilities. These deployments vary in nature and include short-term temporary duties to attend a training class, indefinite commitments to conduct combat operations, and assignment to remote tours that are a year or more long. Each situation presents unique challenges to a fighter pilot’s Christian walk, finances, family, and more. Read more
In 1996, an Air Force chaplain urged his congregation to participate in the “Project Life Postcard Campaign,” an attempt by the Catholic Church to persuade Congress to overturn President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban. Military leadership believed that such actions constituted “political lobbying,” so chaplains were prohibited from encouraging their congregations to participate. With the assistance of the Becket Fund, the chaplain sued and won in District Court in April of 1997. [Becket Fund report]
In 1999, an Air Force lieutenant trained as a missileer asked that he not be placed on alert with an officer of the opposite gender. (This would require him to be in the cramped quarters of a missile control center for days at a time with only the company of the other officer.) Because he felt that the potential for temptation would affect his commitment to his wife, he sought relief under Department of Defense regulations requiring religious accommodation. Several commanders accommodated him; eventually, one revoked the accommodation and gave him an “unprofessional” rating on his OPR. Fearing the OPR would unjustly hinder his career, the lieutenant appealed to a records correction board to have the OPR amended; they partially edited the “unsubstantiated” statements on the OPR. Eventually, the lieutenant sued the Air Force with the assistance of the Becket Fund. A year later (2003), the Air Force settled and removed the OPR and all references to it from his records. [Becket Fund report]
In late 2005 Navy Lieutenant (Chaplain) Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a 1991 USAFA graduate, went on a hunger strike near the White House to protest an effort to have him removed from the military for insisting on praying “in Jesus’ Name.” He said he would maintain his hunger strike until the President signed an executive order codifying the chaplain’s right to pray in accordance with his beliefs. After 16 days, the chaplain ended his strike when his commander wrote a letter stating he was permitted to pray in Jesus’ Name while in uniform. [Klingenschmitt personal website]
Today, two Air Force officers–a chaplain and an F-16 fighter pilot–have joined the defense of an ongoing lawsuit that has pitted the Air Force against Michael Weinstein, a 1977 US Air Force Academy graduate who claimed that his son had experienced the fruits of proselytizing evangelical Christian cadets and officers. According to the Alliance Defense Fund, the two joined the Air Force defense because if Weinstein prevailed, “their ability to share their faith and to candidly discuss religion…would be in jeopardy.” The fighter pilot stated that he felt he had the “right to discuss my faith without censorship or fear of retribution.” [ADF Report]
In the face of public scrutiny of religion in its ranks, it appears the military is slowly distancing itself from religion. The initial Air Force religious guidelines told officers they could not use public expressions of faith, advocate a particular belief system, use “well-intentioned” expressions of belief, or have religious content in their emails. While the first revision of those guidelines softened those stances, the potential that the Air Force could one day become anti-Christian now seems possible. Christian officers must not only assess their actions in the light of regulations but also consider the court of public opinion. An otherwise permissible action could still conceivably result in a detrimental news headline, official complaint, or Congressional investigation; even if a Christian was “acquitted” after a complaint, would the cost—to his professional career or personal witness—be worth it? If even chaplains are investigated for religious offense, what is a Christian fighter pilot to do if he desires to have an active witness for Christ? Read more
A Christian fighter pilot engages in spiritual combat on a daily basis. His foundation is threatened, his faith is tested, and his righteous life is challenged. To survive, he requires a firm spiritual foundation and Christian mutual support.
A Christian fighter pilot needs a firm foundation to be an effective witness to the world. His foundation is based on the strength of his faith and beliefs; he must know what he believes, why he believes it, and he must have confidence in it. If a Christian believes without question that God parted the Red Sea for the nation of Israel, allowing them to cross on dry ground and drowning the Egyptians after them, then to him it is as sure as fact. Conversely, if he thinks that God parted the sea, but isn’t sure if it was just a marsh, or maybe the Egyptians just got caught in the mud, then his faith is based on indefinites and his beliefs are indefensible. When challenged, the Christian with firm beliefs will not waver and will rely on the underpinnings of his faith; the Christian whose faith is based on possibilities will have no fortress to fall back to when his faith is challenged, and he may retreat to a secular position or simply surrender all together. Read more
A fighter pilot’s reputation precedes him everywhere he goes in the military. The Air Force fighter world is not large, and within each particular airframe the population is even smaller. In the F-16 world, which is the largest of the fighter pilot communities, there are seven operational bases to which a pilot could be assigned as of 2005 (base closures are reducing that number). Due to the constant turnover of pilots, by the time he is at his second operational assignment he will have met nearly half of the F-16 world. Read more
A Christian fighter pilot’s priorities should serve as a guide rather than a list of rules engraved in stone. Even if he has his priorities “set,” there are times that sacrifices must be made, and situations in life may require temporary adjustments to priorities to achieve a required goal or fulfill obligations. With that in mind, I suggest the following thoughts when setting personal priorities: Read more
It is possible that a Christian who adheres to Christian priorities may be persecuted as a result, though in the modern Air Force blatant personal persecution is rare; I have never experienced it in my short career. What is a Christian fighter pilot to do in the face of persecution? Read more
Christian fighter pilots are military officers, and there are things that pilots will do simply because they are the appropriate thing to do due to their professional position. A pilot’s presence may be “expected” at the annual Air Force Ball, the wing Christmas party, or an enlisted promotion ceremony. Each of those events has its own unique structure and traditions. The pilot’s cost for such an event will probably be significantly more than the cost to younger personnel because officers generally make more money and are subsidizing the attendance of younger troops. While some less socially-inclined pilots may view such activities as an “inconvenience,” there are generally no moral arguments for avoiding them. On the contrary, they often give a Christian pilot the opportunity to interact with many officers and enlisted whom he rarely sees. Still, he must decide if the activity is appropriate for his attendance. In my experience, wing and group functions tend to be more formal and controlled, while many squadron parties I have attended have been raucous and out of control.
The Officer’s Club
Another frequently mentioned part of officership is the Officers’ Club. The O’Club is a “tradition” that spans decades. Read more
What would God think?
Ultimately, the degree to which a Christian chooses to participate in “traditional” fighter pilot activities must be based on several things. First of all, a Christian must consider God. This is essentially the “big brother” question that is asked every day in the Air Force. During a fighter pilot’s combat or training sorties he will be forced to consider what his leadership will think of his decisions and their potential outcomes. If he feels that his leadership would support him, perhaps even if he fails, then he’ll probably execute his decision. If he decides that he may not be able to “answer the mail” about his judgment, then he’ll probably forego it or choose to accept the potential negative consequences. The Christian’s leadership is God. Would God be pleased by the actions that a fighter pilot takes and the activities in which he participates? Do they glorify God? Are they edifying? In the now famous words of the Christian youth movement, what would Jesus do?
While this sounds like a canned Sunday School question that prohibits virtually any fighter pilot activity, remember the New Testament: Jesus ate with prostitutes, traveled with fisherman, and contended with the religious elite—all things that the religious authorities of the time (mistaken though they were) considered inconsistent with the character of God.