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On a Wing and a ...:' Reflection on Faith and the Air Force

Faith

Not long ago, a group of 66 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, urging him to issue guidance to counter an “alarming pattern of attacks on faith” in the U.S. Air Force. This was a reaction to U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz’s recent actions removing Latin references to God in unit patches, nixing Biblically-based ethical arguments used in missile training, removing Bibles from Air Force inns and barring commanders from informing airmen about programs available through base chapels. General Schwartz seems to have been responding to complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a religious watchdog group. After finding Biblical references in a course on ethics taught to airmen preparing them for assignments to missile silos, the group sent the information to Truth-out.org, which posted it on their website.

Historically, references to God have been common in in the Air Force. Robert Lee Scott, Jr.’s account of flying in the China-Burma Theater during World War II, “God Is My Co-pilot,” included a foreword by Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, chief of the Flying Tigers. The concluding line of “High Flight,” a poem by pilot-poet Gillespie Magee, killed in action three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, concludes, “I’ve trod the high un-trespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.” Such references, along with references to flying “on a wing and a prayer,” have long been integral Air Force culture. The chapel at Offutt Air Force Base, formerly the Headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), includes an airman standing in front of a nuclear mushroom cloud.

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