The past few days have been quite “interesting” for me. I have been reading various aspects of what is currently happening for the Pagan-folk down at Fort Hood. Apparently, there are some issues related to access to the area that had been set aside for these folks by the Base and Chapel services. And my blood boils over the lack of support and assistance that the group has apparently not been receiving over time from the Chapel folks.
I am sure a few people reading this will not readily understand why my hackles get raised over stuff like this. Its not just because the folks are military, or that I have been stationed at Fort Hood. When I was in the Air Force, I visited Fort Hood on an equipment delivery run, and ate a single meal in one of the Chow Halls there. As a blue-suiter, I stood out like a sore thumb, but my memory of Fort Hood is merely vague at best. And while I have a soft spot in my heart for military folks, my interest comes from my own time in the Air Force, specifically my time stationed at Sembach Air Base in Germany in the early 1990s. Along with a group of about twelve people (my memory is fuzzy at the total number of folks involved, but there was a core group of seven), the group I was involved with petitioned the Ramstein Air Base Chapel for space for Pagan circles. At times, it was a contentious running argument between us and the Chaplains, but in the end – the Department of Defense relented, noting that as members of the military, the Chapel’s services and space should be made available to us, just as it is for any other religious/faith-based group.
The time shortly thereafter was a bit rough for some of us. Our appointed Lay Person endured a few death threats and some volatile work situations. I was threatened in the Allied Post Office lobby at Sembach one evening. Many of us were shunned by the people that were in close proximity to our living areas in Base Housing. A few of the single enlisted folks got into physical altercations started over objections to their Pagan faith. But over time, we were generally left alone and when I left the Air Force and headed back to Shreveport, Louisiana for my discharge from active duty, our legacy was in place. We had helped Pagans gain a position of stature within the Chapel services, and provided an example of how people of a non-Christian faith could function within the military’s closed environment.
At Pantheacon 2016, I met one individual during the first evening who was working as a volunteer. When we found out that we were both ex-military, we started comparing notes. We soon discovered that he was part of the Pagan military folk that handled their faith with the Chapels, unit commanders, and shift leaders – just as we had done. Because we had blazed the original Path, his encounters with leadership and Chapel staff was less contentious than ours had been. There were fewer protestations that Pagans were not a “real” faith. The Chaplain’s Handbook had our faiths outlined within it. And I got the opportunity to thank one individual at Pantheacon 2016 for getting that part done – Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. I sincerely doubt she would remember the encounter, even though it was just a few weeks ago. She was trying to find the panel room that she needed to be at, and had stopped at a table where I was typing a blog post on my bluetooth keyboard and iPad combination. But I had the chance to say thank you, even if she was in a hurry. I had the chance to say thank you to someone that helped my group of folks with our struggle against the Chaplains’ office.
I am not sure how I can help with the folks at Fort Hood. However, after reading their story over at The Wild Hunt, I reached out and offered whatever assistance they thought would be needed. They have been around for quite some time, and I have watched them from afar, quite proud of what they have accomplished. But, considering what I did while wearing a uniform for this country, I cannot stand by idle and not offer any assistance. My honor will not allow that. Too many of my Pagan brothers and sisters have set their shoulders against that tide, pushed back, jeopardized their careers, placed their own personal health (and sometimes their own lives) in harm’s way – all to insure that Pagans have an equal footing in an environment where they most assuredly should. We fought for the right to have our beliefs stamped into our dog tags. We pushed to gain Chapel space, where we could worship our Gods and Goddesses without fear of retribution from outsiders. We implored the military to allow us to be governed under Lay Persons from within our own ranks – Lay Persons who would be responsible for the disposition of the Chapel spaces we utilized – Lay Persons who would be able to serve as initial contact points for any new Pagan personnel coming into the area. Pagans who could talk with other Pagans to determine needs, and then petition the Chapel for assistance where and when it was necessary.
Am I pissed off? Yes. But. There’s a time and a place to get angry. There’s a time and a a place to let one’s temper loose and the Anglo-Saxon descriptives fly. This is not that time. Right now, this time dictates that its time to get up, shake the dust off my feet, and limber up my muscles. Now is the time to gather up my staff, remembering that it is more than a tool made to assist me in walking. And stand at the ready to assist my Pagan brothers and sisters that wear a uniform for this country. I am not sure what I can do at this moment. I am not sure how I can help. But I certainly didn’t fight for the rights that they have now, just to watch the military act is if all that went before was for naught. Because it sure the fuck wasn’t.