Sunday, April 13, 2014

Faith in the Military: Belief Begins with Missiles

With Holy Week beginning in a couple of days, I decided to write about faith in the military.

In general, the military makes more clear the muddy world of faith most people live with in America.

I joined the Air Force in 1972 an agnostic, not because I had any informed idea of faith, but because I did not know or care if I believed in anything.  Neither of my parents practiced religion in any form.  My Dad was Jewish.  My Mom was Protestant.

Early in our childhoods, somewhere around three years old, both my sister and I got about a month of religion.  My sister went to Church.  I went to Temple.  Then we dropped out.  My main religious instruction was the puppet show "Davey and Goliath" which aired on Sunday morning.  I watched that show pretty much every Sunday morning while my parents slept in when I was four and five years old.

Although I knew a lot of kids who went to Catholic School growing up, I never met an overtly religious person.  In the fifth grade, I got beaten up by Catholic boys who said I killed Christ.  I did not know the story of the Crucifixion at the time, but the Gospels seem pretty clear that Roman Soldiers nailed The Lord to the Cross, not a skinny, 11-year-old Jewish kid.

On my 12th birthday, my Dad started talking about getting me a Bar Mitzvah.  The rabbi in the local synagogue would not allow boys to read a phonetic Torah, so I learned enough Hebrew to recite my Torah passage reading from the Hebrew.

Then religion was over for another seven years.

I enlisted at 18.  After Basic Training and an eight-month technical school, I went to my first permanent duty station at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.  My roommate, Collin, was a 20-year-old who did not drink, smoke or smoke dope and professed no interest in sex before marriage.  He read the Bible every day, prayed on his knees and was really a great roommate--clean, quiet and gone a lot.

Not only was Collin religious, he was Pentacostal.  One Wednesday evening I went to his Church.  Wow!  For a barely believing, barely Jewish Bostonian, Pentacostalism was a circus.  I wanted no part of Collin's faith, but I continued to admire him as a person.  He took a lot of shit from everyone else in the barracks.  But I did not want to be him.  Faith was for old people.

Then November 9, 1973, I rode my 750 Honda to the missile test range at Hill Air Force for work.  We were live-fire testing interstage detonators for the Minuteman Missile that day.  At 9:30 a.m. I started my journey of faith in the blast room where we connected the detonators to our test equipment.

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