I’ve written previously about my difficulty getting both my dog tags and my Enlisted Records Brief to accurately reflect ‘ATHEIST’. Some of the story is kind of funny and even eventually made it on the Flying Spaghetti Monster website. My corrected dogtags even made it on Wikipedia!
NO-REL-PREF makes you a target for proselytism (even more than ATHEIST), as the largest Chaplain’s endorsing agency has a policy “… reserving the right to evangelize the unchurched“. Every time this subject comes up, a bunch of people relate similar experiences – each of us initially thinking it was an isolated incident. This is absolutely rampant.
Anyway, a new Marine Corps recruit just wrote me about her experiences. It’s got some uplifting stuff in there, and I’m extremely proud to see so many of you standing up and demanding respect! It’s about time!
Please let me begin by saying that I’ve followed the Fort Bragg situation since I first heard about it last year, and I’ve been following your posts ever since. It’s people like you that inspire me to be open about my atheism, and I commend for your actions.
I’m not quite sure what to do about my situation, and any advice you can give me would be much appreciated.
I’m an atheist rating a six on the Dawkins scale, and I’m enlisting in the Marine Corps. I’m scheduled to ship to boot camp in soon. The whole process has been fairly smooth sailing; the Marines at my recruiting station have known me for quite some time, and have gone the extra mile to get me in the Corps (it’s been a long and interesting journey, with twists I never saw coming but that’s another story that I’m happy to share at another time).
I took the oath and signed my initial contract recently. I was a little worried about swearing in, but even that went without a hitch as the officer in charge of administering the oaths was professional and explained to my group that we could swear or affirm, whichever we felt most comfortable with, and that we were under no obligation to state “So help me God” at the end of the oath. For all that it was a long day at MEPS, I was pleasantly surprised at how even this potentially touchy issue was handled, and was able to take the oath in the secular manner I had hoped to.
There’s only one problem I’ve with the whole process, and that’s the part of my package stating my religious preference. Two days before I went to MEPS, one of the Marines at my Recruiting Station (RS) called me on the phone to double check with me on some items, one of which was religious preference. I clearly stated that I was an atheist, he said okay, and that was that.
The next day I went into my RS to go over my package to make sure that everything was filled out correctly, and sign the initial paperwork for my package. As I was going through everything, I noticed that “No Rel Pref” was listed under the Religion section. I pointed this out to the Marine going over my package, and asked why he hadn’t put in “Atheist,” as I had stated that was my religious preference when we talked on the phone the day before. I jokingly pointed out that “No Rel Pref” implied that I couldn’t make up my mind, and he knew me well enough to know that I have an opinion about everything. He shrugged and told me that there wasn’t a code he could input for Atheist, so this was the next best thing.
I told him that he was mistaken about there not being a code for Atheist; he assured me he was not. As he continued to double check his work on my package, I pulled out my iPhone, and in less than three minutes had located online the “Military Personnel Procurement Manual, Volume 2: Enlisted Procurement” that had in one of the appendices a “Consolidated List of Religious Preferences,” with Atheist listed as code 75. I didn’t have the time to check to see if the manual is this most current one, but I reasoned that the code for Atheist wouldn’t have changed, and that this proved that it was possible to code for Atheist…
I showed him what I had found on my phone; he called over to one of the other recruiters and asked why that other recruiter had said there wasn’t a code for Atheist, and showed the second recruiter what I had found. The second recruiter looked, shrugged, and walked away.
I asked the recruiter I’d been going over my paperwork with to change the package so it accurately reflected my religious preference. He said that since this was just my initial package that it would take more effort than the situation warranted to go back, change the code and reprint the relevant pages since I would have to go through this process again when I signed my formal contract right before shipping. He said I could just have things changed for my final package, so why bother now when it didn’t really matter. He also said “don’t be surprised if, when you’re in the Corps, no matter how many times you try to change it to Atheist, it comes back as No Rel Pref.”
At that point I shut up and just let it go; there was still a lot to go over, and I really wanted to go through MEPS the next day, take the oath, and sign my initial contract. Since I couldn’t physically force him to change it, I figured it was best to wait until I was safely in the pipeline. I’m kind of kicking myself now for not standing up for myself more that day, but you pick your battles, and this was only the first skirmish, not a decisive engagement.
I am not in the closet about my atheism. In fact, I’ve joked about it with several of the other recruiters in the station, including the SSgt in charge, whom I’ve known for over a year and a half now. I think that one of the best ways that I can change other people’s negative perceptions of atheists and atheism is to be personally open about it, so they can see that I’m a nice, intelligent, moral, and successful person. I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding the fact that I’m an atheist from anyone, not my family, friends, or from my future platoon mates or DIs by not having Atheist in my package or on my dog tags. I know I may face some crap at boot camp (and in the Corps in general) for being an atheist, but I figure if I am open about my lack of faith when asked about it, and I still do my damnedest to be the best frakkin’ recruit the DIs have ever seen, maybe things will be a little bit better for the next atheist who enlists.
I took the oath, so I can’t refuse to ship, nor do I wish to, especially for something that I believe many people see as trivial (although if a Protestant were complaining about being listed as Wiccan, I doubt they’d still see it as trivial). I don’t want to be in a position where I am arguing with my recruiters that I am not signing the package again unless it clearly states correctly that my religious preference is Atheist, since that would be threatening their ability to make mission that month and all of them, especially the SSgt in charge of the RS, really have gone to great lengths to get me that particular shipping spot. On the other hand, I really don’t want to go along with No Rel Pref for a second time. I see it as an integrity violation, both to the Corps and to myself. I don’t wish to seem ungrateful to my recruiters; I really don’t think this happened out of malice (more like indifference), and they’ve been great to me. These are a good group of gentlemen, and I honestly think that they just don’t understand why an atheist isn’t okay with No Rel Pref on her package, and eventually her dog tags.
So, my question to you is this: how should I handle this when I have to go through this process again a day or two before I ship? Is it even worth it to try to fix it now, or should I just wait until after boot camp? What do you recommend?
Thank you for your time in this matter.
(Name, exact dates, and some personally identifiable information redacted)
There is no reason for such difficulties, it’s on the same list as all the other choices – and has been for decades now. The problem comes from the leadership in the initial phase of enlistment. The fact that the ‘ATHEIST’ option is plainly visible (in alphabetical order) on the same master list as all of the others leads me to believe that this is usually intentional. If a recruiter simply didn’t know better, he’d have to at least look it up on the list before jumping to the conclusion that “NO-REL-PREF” was the only selection. Perhaps not in your case, but you never know.
I was angry, and I even threw my dog tags away and at every inspection I demanded that I get correct versions. They were an inspectable item, but when I started on my rant they just checked me off as if I had my dog tags. Nobody offered to help, and I had no clue what to do.
Eventually I got to my first duty station and my leadership showed me how incredibly easy it is to rectify the situation. Not sure if the Marine Corps calls it ‘S-1’ like the Army, but you basically need to go to the section of your unit that deals with personnel records. They can change all of the stuff on your paperwork. Possibly even issue you new dogtags. However, most of us victims of the NO-REL-PREF stamp had to purchase our own replacement dog tags. They are cheap, and worth it.
I have a preference, thank you very much.
For you, there is plenty of time to get this fixed. I would absolutely stand my ground if I were you. Call your recruiter’s boss. Calmly explain everything to him, and why it is extremely important to you. All they have to do is simply re-print some paperwork, re-sign things, have you re-sign things, and then put it in envelopes.
You are a hero. You are about to become a Marine. You deserve that little bit of decency.
Keep it warm, friendly, and respectful – yet firm. Also, feel free to explain how much you do sincerely like and appreciate their hard work, and reiterate that you don’t want to get anybody in trouble. Everything will be fine, nobody will get in trouble, and you should get the situation fixed.
If not, call me – I’m sending you my contact information. I’ll square you away personally.
For everyone else out there, there is a growing collection of ATHEIST dog tags on this Facebook group, please add yours!