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[American Atheists September 03]
Airman First Class Rich Fonteneau joined the United States Air Force immediately after finishing high school, and has been on active duty for more than two years. Since he began his service as a Weapons Handling Crewmember at an air base in North Dakota, he has become interested in politics and religion and has seen first hand how the U.S Government favors religious belief over nonbelief.
Since he was old enough to think, he's always doubted the existence of a deity, even though he was raised by his christian family, and attended church regularly. He stated a pivotal moment in his life occurred when he was handed a bible by a stranger, and he told the man "no thanks". The man immediately questioned his beliefs, and at that moment, as he tried to explain his beliefs, he realized he was an Atheist.
Airman First Class Fonteneau is becoming active in Atheist organizations, and has challenged his military installation's policies against free expression of non-religious ideals. He is currently embroiled in a struggle with members of his military unit, who claim to be offended by American Atheists bumper stickers on his car, and have demanded their removal through their chain of command. When off duty, he proudly wears his American Atheists pendant, and has vowed to continue to stand up for his right to freely express himself on the same terms as his christian counterparts.
[American Atheists October 03]
Colonel Claudia Ziebis was commissioned as a lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1981, receiving her commission through ROTC at West Virginia University. In 1992, she left Active Duty and became a Reserve officer serving as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee. She currently serves as IMA to the Director of Public Affairs, Air Combat Command, Langley AFB, Va.
As the daughter of German immigrants living in the suburbs of New Jersey, her formative years were spent in a community with diverse ethnic and religious influences. The colonel recalls that when she was about ten years old, she asked several adults whether they believed in God. Each of them said "no -- but there are many people who do, and I respect their belief." It was that respect for other cultures and beliefs that made America the land of opportunity for her parents and neighbors.
In the last decade I've noticed increasing religiosity among many military members, translating into disrespect for some minority religions and atheism," says Colonel Ziebis. "It concerns me. Not only because I'm atheistic, but because I fear it will eventually make the force too homogenous by driving away people like me. The Air Force cannot afford a 'conservative Christian' corporate culture. Our military is the best in the world precisely because it has drawn expertise from every part of American society. If the military only draws people from a certain segment of society, future conflicts will be fought as though one hand were tied behind our backs.
Major Eric Lewan is currently a gunship navigator in the Air Force Special Operations Command, stationed in Florida. He’s been on active duty over 10 years and flown more than 2,000 hours in several aircraft, much of that in the Middle East. Major Lewan recently returned from Qatar where he served in support of military operations in that region.
Major Lewan says he’s one of those people that some say don’t exist – an Atheist in a foxhole. He further stated he has seen faith in action during wartime and believes faith to be the cause of most wars going on today. He wishes a rational mind and an objective, logical system of values would be welcomed in the military, but instead has been frustrated by a continuous barrage of religious speeches and ceremonies during tax-payer supported functions. He hopes someday religious superstition will be replaced with peace and reason.
Major Lewan has shown his support for Atheist activism by participating in American Atheists’ Secular Memorial Service in Alabama on September 11th, 2002 and through his active membership with the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.
[American Atheists July 03]
Sergeant First Class Howard Johnson, US Army (Retired), considers himself a lifelong Atheist in spite of early and frequent religious indoctrination from his family. He is an Army retiree with more than 20 years of active military service, and has been retired since December 2001. His military service included tours in Germany, Korea, numerous installations in the United States, service in Iraq during Desert Storm with the 101st Infantry Division, and two tours in Kuwait with the 3d Infantry Division. As a military police officer his entire career, his duties covered the entire range of law enforcement and tactical duties, including patrol, station operations, investigations, combat support, and prisoner of war control. As a retiree, he continues to serve his community as a police officer.
Sergeant First Class Johnson has experienced first-hand the frustrations of being an Atheist in a military oriented towards “god and country”, including being forced to participate in numerous religious rituals. These frustrations continue in his current position as a police officer, as his department openly endorses the Christian faith, and he has been compelled several times to participate in religious activities. At the present time, his status as a probationary officer (a term used for officers in their first year of service) prevents him from speaking out, but he intends to address these problems as soon as he completes his probationary year and becomes a fully tenured officer. Sergeant First Class Johnson believes the Constitution guarantees freedom from religion and this country’s apparent shift towards a theocracy is contrary to the ideals he spent his entire adult life defending.
[American Atheists August 03]
Army Captain Chad Hetman is a lifelong Atheist who entered the Army through the ROTC program at Rutgers University in 1993. During his time as a cadet, he also served in the Army National Guard as an enlisted soldier. In 1997, he was commissioned as an active duty 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry, and served in many locations, including the Republic of Korea. In 2002, he left active duty with the rank of Captain, but still continues to serve at that rank in the Individual Ready Reserves.
CPT Hetman stated he realized he was an Atheist around the age of four, when he began earnestly questioning the myths his family raised him to believe in. He further stated one of most important events in his life was finding organizations such as American Atheists, which brought him in contact with numerous people like himself. CPT Hetman hopes to see a day when the government is truly neutral towards religion and piety is no longer confused with patriotism.
CPT Hetman has been active in Atheist causes through his association with American Atheists and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. CPT Hetman recently accepted appointment as the New Jersey State Director for American Atheists.
[American Atheists November 03]
Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Richard Brown is a medical services instructor and an emergency medical technician serving at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany. He has served for more than 18 years in a variety of locations, including Korea, Japan, Texas, Nevada, and his current assignment in Germany.
SMSGT Brown recently challenged his unit's practice of conducting prayer activities prior to mandatory unit meetings and was successful in getting the activities to cease. He additionally opened a dialog with his unit's chaplain, during which the chaplain acknowledged this practice of forced prayer was inappropriate in a unit function with mandatory attendance policies. SMSGT intends to continue his work in support of military Atheists' rights.
SFC Harskjold joined the Army in 1983, immediately after graduating high school in Ft Worth, Texas. He was assigned as a Paratrooper to the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC and attached as a Forward Observer with the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (AIR). His unit deployed to Grenada during Operation "Urgent Fury". He got out after his first hitch and attended college, worked a full time job and got married.
Unsatisfied with civilian life he re-enlisted in 1989 and returned back to the 82D Abn. Div. In August of 1990 he deployed with the 1/325th AIR as the initial force during Operation "Desert Sheild". His unit remained until shortly after the cease fire of "Desert Storm" in March of 1991. He continued to serve his country at Fort Bragg.
In January of 2003, his US Army Target Acquisition Detachment was requested by the commander of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendelton, CA to accompany the Marines and provide Counter-Artillery support during Operation "Iraqi Freedom". He states, "At no time during my many deployments or hardships in the Army did I ever become mentally weak or so hopeless that I needed some make-believe figure to help me out". He felt certain that there was no type of supernatural being since he was a teen. He figured, past civilizations have always professed that there God was the one and only, why should the Xians be any different. They all fade away into obscurity and get replaced eventually.
Troy has been always active with constitutional issues, especially religious issues of the 1st Amendment. He has had articles published in a few newpapers and has acted as a liasion for several religious issues that have occurred at Fort Bragg. He believes in a non-beligerant approach these issues. "Being descent about the debates on religion makes people more acceptable of my point of view and usually causes "good xians" to act hateful and ignorant", he says. "In addition I feel people are growing tired of the religious bigotry during a time in the world when people are trying to be more tolerant of different people".
SFC Harskjold currently is still serving at Fort bragg and will be retiring in a few years, with his wife and daughter back in the San Antonio area.