While I have never been in a position where fellow pilots have demanded profanity in my speech (some have even complimented my ability to form a grammatically correct sentence without it), I have been placed in positions where fellow pilots have insisted that I participate in singing fighter pilot songs. Unfortunately, the decisions surrounding pilot songs are more difficult to make. The F-16 B-course students were responsible for providing “entertainment” for the instructors at pilot meetings. This entertainment necessitated a pilot song or two. In other units, every fighter pilot event ended with stirring renditions of traditional fighter pilot songs. In each case, there was tremendous pressure to join in on the singing to “support my wingmen” and squadron mates. Regardless of the strength of tradition in fighter pilot songs, the profanity, vulgarity, and glorification of evil in fighter pilot songs makes them an anathema to the Christian spirit. Because of their content, I believe that a Christian should not participate in singing them.
The true question is how much he allows himself to be around other pilots who are singing those songs. Their vulgar lyrics are set to familiar and catchy tunes; what goes in, even if only passively, will invariably attempt to come out. Read more
One of the more clear-cut vices in the fighter pilot culture is profanity—including the use of God’s name in vain—which is rampant in the fighter pilot community. Profanity punctuates the hyperbolic bravado of every fighter pilot’s speech. Some consider it a requisite to being a fighter pilot, much like the Navy cliché of “cursing like a sailor.” Fighter pilots who do not curse do exist, though they are a rarity. In several cases I even knew fighter pilots who attended church regularly with their families but still used vulgar language. The temptation for any fighter pilot to use profanity will be strong, particularly if it was present in his past. Also, refusing to use profanity is difficult even for a strong Christian for one significant reason: constant exposure. Regardless of a Christian’s personal actions, the fighter pilots around him will still use profanity in their language and casual conversation. The continuous, daily bombardment of profanity leads to the greatest threat to modern Christianity: Read more
A Christian must have a life ministry and proactive faith to positively influence the world. There is a subtle underlying presumption to that truth, however: to effectively influence the world, a Christian has to be in it. By choosing to become a fighter pilot a Christian has elected to be deeply “in” the world, a choice that results in immense tension, a literal struggle between good and evil. A Christian in the fighter pilot world faces immeasurable pressure to compromise his convictions to conform, and he confronts the struggle of trying to be an effective Christian witness to the fighter pilots around him. The Christian fighter pilot’s eternal battle is how to be “in it but not of it”—to be different without necessarily being separate. God has called the Christian to be salt in the world, and his salt needs to be in the meal that is the fighter pilot community. Christians cannot separate themselves so far that their salt isn’t even in the same restaurant. Nowhere in the Bible does God command Christians to segregate themselves from sinners—quite the contrary: Read more
In a very basic sense, the Christian in the fighter pilot world lives a “ministry of presence.” Living among those to whom a Christian hopes to minister opens a door that the TV evangelist, street corner Bible thumper, and pulpit preacher will never have. Few fighter pilots would give those people the time of day—they’ll simply change the channel, cross the street, or watch football on Sunday. The Christian fighter pilot, on the other hand, they know and work with. When a Christian fighter pilot lives a wise and successful professional life, they will respect and trust him. If he lives a Christ-centered life, they will see Jesus in him. That is the essence of a Christian fighter pilot’s ministry of presence.
Importantly, though, just as being a Christian in a foreign land does not inherently make a man a missionary, simply being a Christian in an unChristian fighter pilot world does not mean he’s a ministering pilot. Read more
It’s important for a Christian fighter pilot to have an open and positive attitude towards the fellowships he may find at a new location. When departing a base with a large, well-run fellowship and moving to a place that only has a small group it is tempting to despondently remember how good it “used to be.” Even though Academy cadets eagerly await graduation, I have seen some bemoan their departure because they fear their new base won’t have a fellowship like the one they were leaving. Even though remote tours contain some of the harshest spiritual, emotional, and physical conditions I have known, I have seen airmen lament their departure from Korea for fear they’d be unable to duplicate the unique and intimate fellowship they’d experienced there.
Throughout the rest of the Air Force, this is known as the “Base X” syndrome. Read more
Attending a fellowship or Bible study is a close second to finding a church. Occasionally a Christian fighter pilot will find both a compelling church and a strong Bible study, but more often one will be weaker and it will be the combination of the two that will provide him sufficient Christian teaching and fellowship. I experienced that very thing early on in my cadet career.
Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF) conducted a Bible study on Monday nights as part of the sanctioned Special Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE) system sponsored by the cadet chapel. The hosts of OCF also hosted a Saturday night Bible study at their home just outside the Academy gate. The sponsors were Lt Col Terry Stokka and his wife, Artha. Lt Col Stokka had been a navigator on an AC-119 gunship in Vietnam. As a retired Air Force aviator he garnered immediate respect from cadets. When I attended the first OCF gathering, I was impressed with the Bible study; it involved Lt Col Stokka and some cadets playing guitar and singing praise and worship songs, and then the group divided for in-depth Bible studies. The organization and structure of the gathering impressed me, and Lt Col Stokka’s leadership style and obvious spiritual maturity reassured me that I could be comfortable and learn in the environment of OCF.
Once I began attending OCF, my spiritual foundation became significantly stronger and I started to grow. I found in that fellowship what I had lacked in the many local churches I had attended. My spiritual growth was exponential in my last year and a half as a cadet not because of church attendance but because of the teaching and mentorship of OCF. In some cases it came about simply by being around and observing other Christians. It was at OCF that I saw the benefits of the ability to play guitar. Read more
Arriving at a new base often makes a military Christian feel as though he’s been thrown into the water by himself—the only options are to sink or swim. The single most important thing he can do is establish his spiritual support. Finding a church and Bible study to attend are important to prevent him from feeling that he is standing alone.
The Base Chapel
When a Christian fighter pilot moves to a new location (whether a new assignment or temporary duty), his number one priority (short of eating) should be finding a church to attend. (At some churches, his meal may be taken care of as well.) Read more
The transition from cadet life to active duty is a significant one, particularly for cadets from the military academies. While cadets from civilian colleges have lived “real” lives for the past few years, most Academy cadets are straight out of high school. The only life they have known has been the enforced structure of a military school, dorms and meals provided. The Academy has changed significantly, in part due to progress, in part due to scandal. Still, the fishbowl life of the Academy remains unique in its structure and rigidity. The first time that most cadets experience “freedom” is immediately after graduation when they are given 60 days of leave before reporting to their first assignments. Some take the opportunity to travel, others get married, some spend time with their families, and some do nothing at all. Unbeknownst to them, that leave is a quiet transition between the “too much homework” of the Academy and the “too many things to do” of the “real” Air Force.
Many Christian Academy cadets graduate with high aspirations of the things they’ll do when they’re finally free and clear, whether it’s going to church regularly, finding a Bible study, starting a personal daily Bible study, or beginning to tithe. Read more