Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers Hazes Soldiers in his Command

Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers

Leaving his Command

Harsh words, but that’s the way it seems to pan out.

Hazing, under Army Regulation 600-20 (4-20):

is defined as any conduct whereby one military member or employee, regardless of Service or rank, unnecessarily causes another military member or employee, regardless of Service or rank, to suffer or be exposed to an activity that is cruel, abusive, oppressive, or harmful.

And that’s what the Major General, former commander of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, VA, did when he created the Commander’s Spiritual Fitness Concerts and pressured his commanding officers and non commissioned officers to mandate that soldiers either attend or be punished. “Soliciting or coercing another to participate in any such activity is also considered hazing.”

The Spiritual Fitness Concerts have been going on now for the past two years and in May of this year, a concert was performed by BarlowGirl, an evangelical Christian rock band that describe themselves as “tender-hearted, beautiful young women who aren’t afraid to take an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God ((http://www.barlowgirl.com/about)).”

This concert was all but mandatory. Soldiers of a training class in logistics, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), were force-marched to the concert, where they were finally given an option to attend or return to the barracks. Those that declined attendance were force-marched back to the barracks and ordered to GI the building. No PX, library, barber shop privileges. They were restricted from electronics (cellphones, laptops, games).

Now, if this were during duty hours, it would be one thing. But this is after evening chow. These student-soldiers should have been able to conduct business as usual instead of being punished for not wanting to be proselytized to. And this wasn’t just a handful of soldiers who declined to attend, nor was it just a couple atheists and Muslims. There were about 80 soldiers (half, according to the account at Talk to Action) who chose not to attend and more among the group that attended who did so out of pressure. Those that abstained their attendance and were punished with a GI party (detailed cleaning of a building -busy work often mandated for screw-ups) included Muslims, atheists, agnostics and Christians. Yes, Christians:

“At that evening, nine of us chose to pursue an EO complaint. I was surprised to find out that a couple of the most offended soldiers were actually Christian themselves (Catholic). One of them was grown as a child in Cuba and this incident enraged him particularly as it brought memories of oppression.”

It was “hazing” because there was an attempt to indoctrinate or initiate subordinates into an in-group within the U.S. Army (that being members of the born-again cult). It was an Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint because it clearly violated section 6-1 of AR 600-20.

The U.S. Army will provide EO and fair treatment for military personnel and family members without regard torace, color, gender, religion, national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior.

… and…

Soldiers will not be accessed, classified, trained, assigned, promoted, or otherwise managed on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

So, Chambers, ultimately responsible for EO under his command as the installation commander, chose instead to abuse his position and initiate or attempt to indoctrinate soldiers into his own superstition. Chambers admits in an article[1] that he is a “born again” Christian and claims the Spiritual Fitness Concerts were “not to be a proponent for any one religion, [but] to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds.” Except this didn’t happen.

And then there’s the cost. These concerts aren’t just small events with local Christian bands. We’re talking about the top, nationally known, award-winning Christian artists, with headline acts costing anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, and even many of the opening acts being in the $10,000 range.

The cost of these concerts led MRFF‘s research department to start looking at some of the DoD contracts for other “spiritual fitness” events and programs, and what we found was astounding. One contract, for example, awarded to an outside consulting firm to provide “spiritual fitness” services, was for $3.5 million[2].

Money that could be better spent elsewhere to be sure. Barracks improvement, cookouts for soldiers on the weekends, secular concerts, exercise equipment for dayrooms, etc.

I spent many years in the US Army. What improves “spiritual fitness” (whatever that means) is this sort of moral support -not mandatory evangelical nonsense. Give a soldier a plate of barbequed ribs and a beer, let him or her mingle with peers of the opposite sex, play some volley ball or just horse shoes and you’ve got some happy soldiers.  And it won’t cost $30,000! Hell, you can even get each soldier to pitch in $20!

Luckily, Mikey Weinstein from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is involved in this. It’s left me to wonder if that’s why Chambers is no longer an installation command (as of June 2010) and now a director at some supply dump on an Air Force Base. It’s definitely a step down in the career ladder -going from Installation Commander with hundreds of subordinate commanders to director of logistics on a base that doesn’t even belong to the Army.

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  1. http://www.army.mil/-news/2008/07/09/10753-fort-lee-commanding-general-reaches-out-to-soldiers/ []
  2. http://www.talk2action.org/story/2010/8/19/113223/843 []
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