Returning after an extended break from the blog, I came across this disturbing headline (and accompanying video) at Breitbart:
The video was recorded on 3 April of this year, at a ceremony for Master Sergeant Charles Roberson, who was retiring from active duty after more than 20 years of honorable service. MSgt Roberson, like many leaving the service, requested a flag-folding as part of the event. While there is no “official” flag-folding ceremony, it is well-established in military tradition, and there are several narrations which accompany the ritual.
And that’s where the controversy at Travis begins. Sergeant Roberson, like many departing service members, requested a narrative which highlights (in part) our religious heritage and liberties. Here are a few excerpts:
“The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.”
“The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.
The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
Needless to say, those references didn’t sit well with politically-correct Air Force leadership, which issued its a secular version back in 2005. Religious themes were dumped in favor of “factual information, that shows respect for the flag and expresses our gratitude for those individuals who protect our country, both at home and abroad.”
Unfortunately for the USAF’s PC Police, many retirees–like MSgt Roberson–preferred the religious narrative and kept using it at their retirement ceremonies. The vast majority of commanders allowed the choice, figuring (correctly) that the honoree deserved that much, after decades of wearing the nation’s uniform and enduring the sacrifices associated with military service.
But Roberson’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Sovitsky, had other ideas. As retired Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez began reciting the religious-themed flag-folding narrative, at least four of Sovitsky’s non-commissioned officers surrounded the narrator and dragged him from the room. Members of Travis’s 60th Security Forces Squadron were summoned and Rodriguez was escorted from the base.
All because a retiring NCO requested a flag-folding narrative that spoke to his religious beliefs. Let the record show that MSgt Roberson personally invited SMSgt Rodriguez to his retirement ceremony and specifically requested that he render the religious version of the flag-folding narration. Roberson made his preferences known well in advance, so claims by Air Force p.r. flacks that Rodriguez “disrupted” the ceremony or showed up unannounced are pure bunk.
In fairness, it is worth noting that leadership in the 749th Maintenance Squadron (Roberson’s outfit) were aware of his request and opposed it from the start. The estimable John Q. Public blog has been on the story from the start and reports that Roberson’s chain of command provided “guidance” on the narrative once Roberson made his preferences known: Rodriguez was not to perform the “unauthorized” flag speech. MSgt Roberson passed on the directive to the narrator, while making clear his preference for the religious-themed narrative. According to J.Q.P., Roberson left the final decision to Rodriguez as to whether he would stand and speak during the flag folding. SMSgt Rodriguez chose to exercise his First Amendment rights, and for his efforts, was unceremoniously dragged from the ceremony and kicked off post.
Some might argue that the Air Force had a right to eject Rodriguez. His narrative could be construed as an endorsement of Judaism and Christianity, and it took place on public property, specifically a building at Travis AFB. Volumes of court rulings would seem to support the USAF, no matter how repugnant its actions were.
But J.Q.P. raises important counter-arguments that demolish the Air Force’s position. He notes that military chaplains often deliver religious invocations at retirement ceremonies and other official events, often appearing in the same frame as the American flag. As for the Air Force Instruction (34-1201) that mandates use of the “secular” flag-folding script, the reg doesn’t carry the weight of law and “creates an unwarranted limitation” on the ability of service members to draw inspiration from the flag and express it publicly. Such expressions are not contrary to the maintenance of good order and discipline, so the USAF’s position is further eroded. And, there’s the very real possibility that leaders of the 749th issued illegal detention orders when they directed those NCOs to remove Oscar Rodriguez.
And here’s the kicker: the flag-folding is not part of the official retirement ceremony, so the Trotskyites in the 749th were attempting to dictate content and participation of a private ritual–requested by the retiree–after the conclusion of events that fall under Air Force purview. Instead, the “leadership” of the unit (and we use that term advisedly) tried to exert total command influence over the event. What was supposed to be a fitting send-off for a retiring airman instead became a strong-armed spectacle, thanks to commanders who seem to care only about their P.C. agenda–and not those who serve under them.
J.Q.P. describes the Travis debacle as more proof of the “moral rot” that is crippling the USAF. Sadly, we can’t disagree.
In response to media queries, the Air Force says an investigation into the matter is underway. For those keeping score at home, the probe is being handled by the 60th Security Forces Squadron, the same unit involved in removing Oscar Rodriguez from Travis after he was ejected from MSgt Roberson’s retirement ceremony.
We’re quite sure it will be the very model of impartiality and fairness.