Recently, an incident occurred in Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border during which armed Mexican soldiers — within the United States — confronted U.S. service members, disarmed the Americans and detained them for questioning.
U.S. military officials were quick to state that the American troops “followed all established procedures and protocols” by de-escalating the situation.
As a former Air Force fighter pilot, I understand the concept of necessary de-escalation. I was nevertheless shocked at how quickly some of our soldiers disarmed themselves while defending our border. And as someone who works at a national religious liberty law firm, I was struck by the paradox that our military responded not by de-escalating, but with swift aggression against a decorated Air Force veteran who mentioned the word “God” during a retirement ceremony for a fellow airman.
In April 2016, retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez Jr. agreed to perform a patriotic flag-folding speech for a retiring airman. Despite having performed the speech dozens of times at various patriotic and civic events, the Air Force was determined to prevent him from doing it on a military base because Rodriguez’s flag-folding speech mentions “God” six times. When Rodriguez began his speech, he was stopped by three uniformed airmen, who proceeded to drag him out of the room.
Three years and two lawsuits later, the Air Force has yet to hold a single person accountable for violating Rodriguez’s constitutional rights.
Ironically, while our border troops apparently followed all established procedures and protocols by handing over their weapons to foreign troops on American soil, the Air Force has either neglected or refused to follow its procedures and protocols in handling the Rodriguez incident. During my fighter pilot days, I became intimately familiar with just how scrupulously the Air Force follows its procedures and protocols — I am dismayed it has not done so in Rodriguez’s case.
When something bad occurs, the Air Force is supposed to investigate and hold accountable those responsible. Sadly, the Air Force has not fulfilled its duty to Oscar Rodriguez, the American people, or its own heritage.
The Air Force broke its promise to conduct a full investigation into the incident and it dishonored itself by declaring there was no wrong doing. How can it clear itself when it admits it has not yet fully investigated the incident?
Worse, the airmen who assaulted Rodriguez blame him for defying their orders to not perform the speech.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state, is asking the Defense Department's inspector general to review the Air Force's decision to allow retiring airmen to have religiously-themed speech during the flag-folding portion of their retirement ceremonies.
To clarify, when foreign troops entered sovereign American soil, raised their weapons and demanded that our troops disarm, the U.S. personnel immediately complied. Yet when a man who dedicated 33 years of his life to serving our nation attempted to mention the word “God,” he was immediately assaulted and dragged away.
When I was flying jets during the Cold War, we knew that any “incident” could lead to international tensions. And we certainly experienced our fair share of such incidents. But it was far more important for us to send the message that America is strong. We would never have turned over our weapons.
Perhaps those troops at the border are an anomaly. But they sent a message that America is soft and weak, which defies President Trump’s intent and runs counter to our National Security Strategy. Similarly, the Air Force’s treatment of Oscar Rodriguez defies President Trump’s Executive Order on Free Speech and Religious Liberty, the Constitution and federal law. Clearly, there are some in the Pentagon who feel free to ignore their commander-in-chief and legal authorities.
If our military can’t figure out how to respond to foreign troops on U.S. soil without disarming, or a veteran mentioning “God” without assaulting him, we are doomed.
David Holmes is chief operating officer and chief financial officer at First Liberty Institute. A retired Air Force fighter pilot, Holmes also served in the U.S. Embassy in Japan under former vice president and Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale.