Christian fighter pilots face a unique challenge in their roles as “government officials” and religious individuals. The struggle is ongoing in large part because the American public is confused or misinformed about the correct relationship between religion and society. Weak Christian responses to these public misperceptions have failed to reverse the resulting rise of secularism in America.
Misunderstandings of the proper role of religion in American society have 200 years of history behind them and center on a few simple words in the US Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The Military Christian’s Response
Updated April 2007. See bottom of page for most recent updates to this story.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is now representing Mrs. Roberta Stewart, the widow of fallen soldier SGT Patrick Stewart, in her dealings with the Veterans’ Administration (VA). Mrs. Stewart is a Wiccan and desires to have a Wiccan symbol (a “pentacle,” an encircled five pointed star) placed on a VA-funded memorial plaque. (Her efforts have also been reported in the Washington Post.) To be clear, Mrs. Stewart is not seeking a headstone to place on an unmarked grave, as she has scattered her husband’s ashes elsewhere. The plaque she seeks would be placed on a “Wall of Heroes” memorial at a veterans’ cemetery near Fernley, Nevada. When notified that her pentacle was not authorized, the VA offered to produce a plaque with no emblem, but Mrs. Stewart declined. The request for a pentacle was made in January of this year. In June, the AU corresponded with the Veterans’ Administration on her behalf and demanded a response within 30 days to “avoid litigation.” Read more
Daily spiritual struggles, constant challenges to a Christian’s faith, the potential for persecution: with so many negatives, why would any Christian even want to be a fighter pilot?
Many of the articles on this website deal with the pessimistic aspects of trying to be an authentic Christian in a sometimes immoral fighter pilot world. This was primarily a somewhat zealous attempt to “set straight” any “starry-eyed” would-be fighter pilots, and it failed to consider those who honestly know very little (good or bad) about the fighter pilot world. A dearth of positive articles may lead some to believe that there isn’t any good in being a fighter pilot and that there’s no respectable reason for a Christian to be a fighter pilot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are awesome and positive things about being a fighter pilot, and the fighter pilot world even has aspects that make it desirable as a Christian career. Read more
As noted in an Air Force article, on June 23 Rabbi Resnicoff finished his year of service as special assistant to the Air Force secretary and chief of staff for values and vision. In a Washington Jewish Week article, Resnicoff noted that “for some Christians sharing one’s faith with others is an essential part of their religion” and “the guidelines do not prohibit such free exercise.” Notably, Mikey Weinstein is quoted as calling Resnicoff an “unmitigated disaster.”
In my last year at the Air Force Academy I developed the same question that I’m sure every Christian in their last year of college does: what is God’s will for my life? While we would all be commissioned in the military, the variety of options available to us meant a plethora of possible career—and thus life—opportunities. Lt Col Stokka, the Officer’s Christian Fellowship staff member at the Academy, taught a lesson to the first class cadets (seniors) that I’m sure he did every year. In it he basically taught that we shouldn’t only seek God’s will when we have a significant decision to make. Rather, we should strive to live as God would have us live everyday. This is rooted in Romans 12:2,
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
If a Christian reads the Bible, stays in prayer, and seeks God’s will everyday, then the decisions that he makes should be consistent with the will of God. Rather than depending on emotions and feelings—what he feels God’s will is—he should make his decisions based on the word of God.
Lt Col Stokka assuaged some of our fears about our future assignments by relating some of his personal history. As an Air Force officer he faced reassignment every 2 to 4 years. Read more
…The first phase of pilot training was purely academics, learning the elementary concepts of flight and navigation. The next phase was basic flight in the T-37, a twin engine jet trainer with the pilot and student sitting side-by-side. The 1950s era plane had an agonizing engine sound that earned it the nickname “Tweet.” It was in this aircraft that we were taught the fundamentals of takeoff, landing, and instrument flight. The first flight in pilot training is traditionally called a “dollar ride,” a term which is sometimes applied to the first flight in any flying training program in a new aircraft. The student is so clueless and the instructor pilot (IP) has to demonstrate (and thus fly) so much that the student is essentially a passenger. Traditionally, the student gives the IP of his first sortie a dollar bill as a “tip” for the ride. The dollars are often decorated with magazine clippings (some more risqué than others), phrases, or other details that might characterize the flight, the student, or the IP. Many UPT instructors’ desks are littered with laminated, vandalized dollar bills. The journey from the “dollar ride” to the first solo is amazingly short. Read more
Given the nature and danger of the fighter pilot profession, comradery is strong. Fighter pilot traditions are a means of sharing in that comradery. Given the relative youth of the pilot profession—the Wrights first flew in 1903—the traditions of the Air Force are almost farcical compared to those of the centuries-old Army, Marines, and Navy. While some fighter pilot traditions pass on the history of flying and fighting, many are rooted more in fraternity than reality and simply revel in the exclusivity of the fighter pilot culture. Some fighter pilot traditions are so outrageous and immature that they have taken on the air of reindeer games—they are nothing more than something “special” that one has to be a fighter pilot to understand. Read more
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