An organization representing a retired airman who was forcibly removed from a retirement ceremony last April is suing the Air Force, seeking more information on the incident.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez was thrown out of a friend’s retirement ceremony at Travis Air Force Base in California after he began delivering a speech mentioning God during the flag-folding portion of the ceremony. The retiring airman, Master Sgt. Chuck Roberson, asked Rodriguez to perform the speech, which Rodriguez wrote himself and had performed more than 100 times at ceremonies. But base leaders told Rodriguez multiple times that he was not to participate in the official, on-base retirement ceremony.

The First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom organization representing Rodriguez, said Thursday that the Air Force is violating the Freedom of Information Act by improperly withholding one of its two investigations it conducted into the incident.

“The Air Force is clearly hiding something,” said Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty, in a news release. ”Federal law requires the government to make a determination within 20 days of a FOIA request, yet it’s been over 200 days and we haven’t received anything but delays. Whatever the Air Force is hiding, it must be really bad for them.”

First Liberty said that Lt. Col. Michael Sovitsky, commanding officer of the 749th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Travis, tried to stop Rodriguez from attending the ceremony or delivering the speech once he learned Rodriguez planned to reference God in his speech.

The Air Force Inspector General said in a report released last September that investigators found Rodriguez was removed because he was delivering an unofficial speech — not because of its religious nature. The report noted that, at Roberson’s request, the ceremony began with a chaplain’s invocation that closed with the words ”in Jesus’ name,” and officials did not object to that prayer.

However, the incident led the Air Force to relax its rules governing the flag-folding portion of official retirement ceremonies to allow unofficial scripts to be read, if the retiree so chooses.

First Liberty said the investigation that was released concerned claims that Rodriguez’ First Amendment rights were violated. The second, unreleased report has to do with claims of Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations.

Video of the incident soon hit the Internet and was posted on the John Q. Public blog, sparking a heated debate over whether base officials overstepped their bounds by removing Rodriguez.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

In Other News
Load More