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Lying to Survive at the Air Force Academy - An Open Letter to Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson

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The following letter was written by a client of the  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO:

I am Spartacus.

I am over 100 cadets strong at the USAF Academy.  I am also the seventh Spartacus in succession, covering more than six and a half years since first appearing within the AF Academy Cadet Wing in the summer of 2007.

We, of Spartacus, live a total lie every single day and night to survive here.

In our world here at the Air Force Academy, having the indispensable odor of a practicing, “all in”, committed Christian among our peers and superiors means being accepted as one of the pack.  With that “in” smell, no one bothers us, tries to convert us, questions our honor, our commitment to service, our motives—we are generally left to our own devices, studying, practicing, flying, athletics and marching.

Frequently, though, and to our disgust, we feel forced to embrace the odor; to “roll in it.”  If the odor fades, or we slip outside of the pack for too long and the alphas and betas sense that we are drifting, we are reined back in with a subtle sniff or bark or nip to make sure that we know our place.  If we question or run away or attempt to fight back, then the pack circles and strikes.  We’ve seen this happen to our friends and (mostly) to those outside our pack and it’s just not worth the risk.  The pack howls: “He doesn’t get it.  He can’t be one of our honorable pack.  She can’t be an alpha and lead us.  She can’t excel in THIS pack—not while we rule the pack.  Not while we’re the majority.”

Some cadets decide to fight, but that doesn’t last long.  They’re trouble makers.  They’re not team players.  They don’t have “character” or ethical standards.  They’re deviants.  We’ll remember them and keep them at bay.  “See, he doesn’t bow his head when WE pray.  She’s not one of us.”  Branded as outsiders, those who choose to remain may form a small group that meets in a basement.  They console themselves with stories of persecution, but they will remain outside the circles of power dictated by the larger pack.  They are constantly reminded, too, that they don’t have the right odor and that they can only be “saved” if they give in and clearly surrender to the pack’s standard of what Jesus is supposed to be. And, to the pack members, especially great rewards come to those that bring the errant cadets back to the pack.

We, of Spartacus, don’t fight, though.  Not yet.  We admire those who do, but our dream is to succeed and excel and prepare to serve once we escape the Academy’s South Gate entrance’s gravity permanently.  We deeply fear that word of our not belonging to the great pack (or even suspicion thereof) will follow us after the Thunderbirds roar overhead at our graduation and that friends and leaders of USAFA’s pack will be all too ready to poison our futures, wherever we go. We’ve seen it happen.  Over and over again. We know it will.

So, we choose to take (what some would say is) the coward’s path, rationalizing that the ends (serving our nation honorably) DO justify the means.  We hold our noses and, though we loathe that particular smell, we roll.  We roll with the pack watching us, we go to the prayer breakfasts quietly, but just often enough to quell suspicion, so we can eat and sleep and study and march in peace and unmolested.  We put the “right’ Christian books, DVDs and CDs on our shelves.  We always enthusiastically say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays.  We know that MOST of our squadron-mates find the smell of this “only way, truth and life” to be homey and comforting, den-like and warm.  They gain great confidence and (some would claim) a sense of peace from it, but it’s not our personal perfume, it’s not how we’d LIKE to feel, and so it comes at a terrible and frightening cost–to our spirit, our psyche, our self esteem and our personal sense of honor.