Friday, March 13, 2015

Heathens in the Military: Army Leaves Ásatrú in Limbo

Daniel's Thor's hammer from Mjölnir Project of White Hart Forge
At the beginning of January, I interviewed veteran Josh Heath and current soldier Daniel Head about their efforts to have Ásatrú and Heathen added to the Army's religious preference list as faith options. You can learn more about Josh and Daniel and their work by reading the January article here.

This was a done deal. Daniel was told that the preferences had been approved by Chief of Chaplains and by the head of the personnel department. All that was left was for the new preference codes to be keyed into the Army computer system. Josh and Daniel provided instructions for soldiers, veterans and the families of deceased soldiers to have their preferences changed by the Army.

Then something changed. The new codes were not added. In response to Daniel's inquiries, the Chief of Chaplains stated that the codes would be added within a few weeks. Nothing happened. Daniel was subsequently sent emails that backed away from previous statements. He was told that the additions had never been approved.

Over two months after being notified of approval, Army Heathens are now in a state of limbo. Inquiries are being given stock responses from the Chaplains Office. In January, the only issue was waiting for the code to be entered. Now, the Army position is that the original request for addition of the religious preference has not been approved, but is “under active consideration.”

In an era where supposed assaults on religious freedom are routinely covered by the media, it's disappointing that Heathens are being told that it's not yet time for them to receive the basic respect and rights given to members of other faiths.

Today, I asked Josh and Daniel to give us an update on this ongoing struggle. My questions and their answers are below.

KS – Before our first interview, what exactly were you told by the Army about approval of Ásatrú & Heathen as religious preferences?

Chaplain (Colonel) Bryan Walker
DH – In an email dated 5 January 2015, Chaplain (Colonel) Bryan Walker [Personnel Director at the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains] wrote, “It has been approved, however the code is not yet in the system. That will probably take a week or two. In any event, long road travelled with success…”

JH – Chaplain Walker indicated we had received approval, but we were a few days to at most two weeks away from having the code approved by Army Human Resources Command. Because of this, we felt we were close enough to make everyone aware of all the work we’d been doing in the background. The message we’d received made it appear that we could let people know, and it seemed smart to get the word out early, so people could make appointments with the S1, in case that couldn’t be handled immediately.

KS – What happened? Why were the preferences not added?

JH – Though Chaplain Walker indicated we were good to go, at this point it appears as if there was some form of technical issues that had not been surmounted. Chaplain Walker has been helpful through the process, but he later admitted he miswrote when he told us we were approved. The process seems to have been much farther way from finalization than indicated, and our current feedback has provided almost no information on what – if anything – is holding up the process.

Chaplain Corps Insignia: "For God and Country"

According to the Pentagon, "The pages of the open
 Bible represent the primacy of God's Word."
DH – Around 21 January, I emailed Chaplain Walker concerning the absence of the code in the religious preference list. Initially he said to give it a week or two, so I did.

The code still wasn’t present, and when I emailed him back he then clarified what he really meant:
The last time we talked I said that I did not recommend putting out news of a new religious preference because it had not yet received Army finalization and new code generated. Thus my suggestion to you then that you check with your S1 in a month or so to see if the new code was in the system. If not, check again in another month. I appreciate your patience to date and ask that you would be patient for a little while longer for the process to complete. Feel free to call me if you have any questions. Thanks.
He’s been great communicating back and forth, and I have no malice or animosity towards him. In a conversation back and forth he concluded:
I mis-communicated as to the G1 approve and sign. I meant to say that the recommendation was for the G1 to approve the request, however, I should not have communicated that the G1 had already signed off. My language reflected my confidence in the outcome, however, I erred by sounding too confident. Nothing as to moving it faster, from what I can see the process is continuing and near the end.
Chaplain Walker wasn’t the final approval. However, he did provide the recommendation for approval to Army G1. As representative of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, he worked diligently and communicated continuously with me through the process until it reached Army G1.

KS – In our first interview, you gave instructions for current and former Army members to change their religious preference. Do you know what happened to people who tried and were denied?

JH – I’ve heard several stories. They usually go like this: “I went to S-1 to make the update and I was told the option was not in the system.” Generally, this is a paperwork issue at the lower levels, and nothing can be done if the option isn’t available. No one has stated they were treated poorly – just denied because the computer system has no love for them.

DH – I don’t have any stories I was directly involved with, but I did see the outbursts on social media like Facebook about it being “lies” and whatnot. My own story was the embarrassment of walking a new S1 guy through the religious preference code system only to find it wasn’t there.

KS – What do you personally think and feel about this development – or lack of development?

Daniel Head
DH – I’m a little angry, but more determined. I understand the Army is in the process of merging administrative systems to something more amiable with on overall Department of Defense system. The claim from Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Walsh is that this is the hold up, although he hasn’t explain why this is the hold up in any comprehensible way.

JH – I’m pissed, but I am struggling at determining who to be mad at. I’m angry as all get-out that this is still not completed. I recently put together a detailed timeline. We’ve been at this for over 5 years now. There is no need for this to still be in the works, and the fact that it is still not done is infuriating.

Part of me really regrets accepting Chaplain Walker’s approval message at face value. That is what really burns me, we should have kept silent, said nothing until we had hard evidence that it was completed before we publicized, but I was so excited, I thought we were in the clear.

KS – What is the Army saying now? What’s the latest statement?

DH – Chaplain Walker handed me off to Chaplain Walsh since the latter is directly involved with Army G1 and this process. Since then, communication hasn’t been the best – although not for lack of reply. Every questioned has been answered with, “Your request that the Army add a religious preference to the database is under active consideration.”

JH – The Army is telling us the process is under active consideration. Basically, they are working on the issue somewhere within the big green machine. However, that tells us nothing, and we literally have received no positive feedback.

KS – What's the next step?

DH – The emails aren’t really getting anywhere. I think they’re too impersonal to convey much in communication. I don’t know what “active consideration” means, and I don’t think Army G1 understands my questions either.

Josh Heath looking dapper
JH – We are involved in a campaign of pestering and constant follow-up. Often in the Army things are done in the background that seem like they should take ten seconds to anyone else. For example, getting vacation approved requires a process that goes through like ten channels, with multiple signatures, and is usually lost or returned because something is incorrect several times.

The next step is to wait, but also to publicize that we are waiting. Journalists like you have reached out to us to begin constructing a narrative around this entire process.

One source we have seems to think that we’ll have this completed by April – but also was told we could end up having to wait till August. That is unacceptable, but there sadly doesn’t appear to be a lot we can actively do, which makes things even more frustrating.

KS – Do you have any message for Ásatrú and Heathen soldiers?

DH – I think everyone should be patient, but should also start sending up their own requests and inquiries.

JH – Don’t give up. Never surrender. We will kick this door until it breaks. Be patient right now, because as much as I want to have every soldier, veteran, and civilian ally e-mail or call over this issue, I don’t think it will help at this juncture. We’re in this together, and we will keep fighting the fight till the fight is won.

2 comments:

David Curtis said...

It's my opinion that all active duty and veteran Asatru should act in unison to have our religious status added.

Jonathon Miller said...

Any update on this? Is there a process for current and former Soldiers to aid in advancing progress with this?

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