Earlier this year, I wrote about the “Free Day Away” program at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Here’s what I wrote then:
It holds a number of different training programs, including Basic Combat Training (BCT). BCT is the first training where service members are taken from civilian life and trained in basic army actions. Therefore, during this training (approximately nine weeks), service members have essentially no rights. They are controlled in what they do and where they go. They don’t get the luxuries of everyday life. More to the point, there is no authorization to leave post. You’re stuck at the base for over two months.
With one exception.
It’s called the Free Day Away.
Tabernacle Baptist Church is authorized to pick up several busloads of trainees to be taken 30 miles away to Lebanon, Missouri where the church is located. Outside the church, the trainees are given privileges they can’t get at the base. They get candy, soda, and home cooking. They get to bowl and play sports. They can use a cell phone.
After that, they go inside the church for a “special ceremony.” It’s over the top. All fire and brimstone. As stereotypical as it can get. There’s a dunking booth in the front so you can do a walk-in baptismal. During the ceremony, people are invited up to the stage to be saved. In front of the stage are several people, waiting to give one-on-one counseling to the prospective “savees.”
… “The coercive religious practices at Fort Leonard Wood are an outrage,” [Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director] continued, “and the Department of Defense should put a stop to them immediately.”
During the church service, soldiers are told that they are all sinners who must repent and that they “must be saved now or go to hell.” Soldiers willing to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior are instructed to step into the aisles of the church and enroll in a six-lesson correspondence course that will lead to their “personal salvation.”
Americans United, in its letter (PDF), urged Gordon S. Heddell, acting inspector general for the Department of Defense, to conduct a full investigation into the Army’s “Free Day Away” practice.
Hopefully, they can find a secular alternative to help troops get a well-deserved break from their duties, if only for a day.