A Pagan in the Military

By Deacon Gray 2012

“What are you trying to be, some kind of a witch?” He was a big guy, a really big guy and he was standing at the foot of my bunk in his underwear with a gleam in his green eyes that read malice in everyway. I know longer remember his name, Army Basic Training was nineteen years ago after all, but the look on his face, the smirk, the malice, the weird since of glee that his body language spoke still sticks in my head.

“I’m not trying to be anything.” I said and stayed sitting by my wall locker. I knew how these guys worked, they were looking for a reason to pick a fight, to mock you or just plain be a bully. If I stood up, it would be considered defensive, an easier target, if I stayed put and kept reading my book, there was a small chance he would leave.

Myself and another friend from basic training, “Rodger” had spent half the morning reading teachings from a group called “Circle Wicca” or “Circle Sanctuary” like I said it has been a lot of years. We had drawn more then one pair of considering eyes over the few hours we talked, but mostly the left us alone. Rodger was a short guy like me, but he was massive in muscle and aggression. Even the bullies didn’t want to mess with him much physically and with my love of debate they didn’t want to engage me on that front.

Most of the time it just wasn’t worth it to mess with us, but the bully found a moment when we weren’t together and figured it was his time to mess with me. I have to admit, I was a scrawny kid. I couldn’t have been more then one hundred and fifteen pounds, and though whip quick and somewhat skilled I wasn’t foolish enough to think there was much I could do against a guy that had been a high school wrestling champion. Simply put, he would kick my ass quick and easy. “So you think you can cast spells? Why don’t you turn me into a frog?”

I was lucky. Rodgers showed up just as the big guy started seriously mocking me, and he was consider just insane enough to bite some ones ear off. “He’s a Buddhist you big dumb ox. I’m the one who casts spells.”

Now after our conversations it became pretty obvious what his “Spells” were all about in his view. They were ritual, energy focus and direction. No one was going to be turned into an frog obviously but Rodgers firmly believed his spells would have some effect, even if only in the minds of the people he used them on.

“You know what dude, you are just like the guys who beat up my little brother. I watched him cry and bleed because some ignorant piece of shit like you decided his faith was something to make fun of.”

“It is. It is just some kind of a little game you play to make yourself feel special or different.” I suppose I remember those words because it was those words that sparked the fight. Rodgers leapt on this great big guy like pissed off primate and the fight wasn’t over till our Drill Sergeant came out of his office and broke it up. Rodgers had blood flowing from his lips and nose, his eyes were swelling and the whites of his eyes were already filling with blood. The big guy was better off in a lot of ways. His own nose was broken, and he had a large bite mark on his cheek, but basically he was ok.

I was less hurt then the other two, I had jumped on the big guys back somewhere in the mix and basically road his back right up until the Drill Sergeants broke it up. So other then a really sore back, from being bashed against a wall locker, and blood nose from the totally in effectual head butt I attempted I wasn’t all that worse for wear. Still we had stood up for ourselves ( Rodger more then me) and that was something to feel good about.

“Just tell me when you want more witch! I will mess you up!” the big yelled, which was answered by Rodgers trying to get up and attack him all over again. Of course by then the Drill Sergeants were all up in the bay and holding the two apart. When they found out what the fight was over, the big guy got moved to another platoon, but that didn’t stop the mocking, which he got others in his new platoon to join in on.

I would have thought the whole experience was a bad experience except for two things. One of the Drill Sergeants called me and Rodgers into his office and told us that he was a practicing Shaman. ( ok I wasn’t educated enough to understand the details, and still won’t claim to understand all he talked about. ) But what I did get from it was that we were not as isolated as we once thought. He told us that we could expect a lot of people to give us crap, we were different, but that it was up to us to show that our faiths strengthened us. He told us we needed to show people we were not just looking for attention and really push to be the best in the class. So show that yes, we were different, but we were also amazing soldiers.

I went on from Basic Training and Advanced Infantry training to Panama for three years, Rodgers went to Hawaii, Air Assault School. I heard from him from time to time as he tried to set up things like Pagan Worship services, though he hit more roadblocks then success. The Chaplin at the time in Hawaii, he told me, has threatened him with non-judicial punishment if he kept trying to get pagan services going. Eventually he was kicked out of the military for “Failure to Adapt” but I have little doubt there was a lot of discrimination involved in that.

Others over the years have had more success. As of now the Chaplin’s hand book has a whole section on Wicca and how to interact with soldiers who practice Wicca and Pagan faiths. They are instructed to allow for services, and not to discriminate. There are groups like the Pagan Military Association that are pushing hard for a Pagan Chaplin to be brought into the military. All of these things are pretty big mile stones, but the discrimination still exists.

Today I am still in the military, and I have climbed the latter and understand the difficulties in getting a pagan Chaplin on board. You have to have a theological degree, you have to be in good standing from your denomination for several years and recognized as a Spiritual Leader ( Priest, Rev, Rabbi…ect) a process that takes a good amount of time. Most of those who are trying to become Chaplin’s simply don’t have the required experience, education and standing to pull it off. Those who do, don’t seem all that interested in joining the military. A lot of us are eclectic in our beliefs, with no organization that can give us the right recommends, or help us to build a record of time serving as a “Spiritual Leader“.

Still I am proud of what my fellow pagans have achieved. They won the right to pagan symbols on grave markers, and the right to have services, though Pagan holidays still are not recognized, as of right now I haven’t heard or found a Pagan Chaplin, but I believe we will with in the next few years.

It is hard for Pagan’s to come out to the public harder still once they have and are dealing with something like a Military tour of service. Still, it is people like that drill Sergeant who took the time to talk to a few young men and tell them to stay strong, that remind me that we are not beyond progress.

Just incase you are wondering happened to the bully. I was told that he went to airborne school and got into a lot of fights, eventually ending up with a broken knee that he earned not from skydive, but from a fight. You see he decided it was a good idea to make fun of a group of guys who wore cut off jean jacket’s with a patch that said “Pagan’s MC” A well known and at times dangerous Motorcycle Club.