I needed a bit of good news. I’m sure many of you are of the same mind.
Readers may recall a short burst of posts about people being screwed over with NO-REL-PREF on their records at the first stop in their military career.
It started with a Marine Corps recruit who was very adamant about wanting ATHEIST on records. Despite this, she was incorrectly told that it wasn’t possible. This post immediately brought countless ‘me too‘ comments and stories, clearly indicating that this is a systematic problem.
The most depressing of the horror stories involved the death of a foxhole atheist survived by a strong woman named Kim. Her husband still had NO-REL-PREF on his records when he died in Afghanistan. She and their kid had to endure proselytism, and unwanted religion from chaplains multiple times. Even at his funeral service.
This really was a debate ending example.
It was just one of many that inspired the Marine Corps recruit to fix her entry packet immediately.
She wrote back and let me know how it went down:
Victory! As if a would-be Marine would accept anything less, hah.
I went into my recruiter station (RS) this afternoon, and although it took a little bit of talking with my recruiter and the SSgt, my package has been updated to state that I do have a religious preference, and it is atheist.
When I arrived at the station, my recruiter wasn’t in yet, so I talked with the SSgt in charge, and asked him if my recruiter had mentioned updating my package regarding my religious preference. He said no, so I told him that No-Rel-Pref had initially been put on my package, and last week my recruiter hadn’t changed it because of the time crunch to get me into MEPS. I said I wanted my recruiter to update my package so it said clearly that I was an atheist. I added that I understood everything that entailed, and that I was okay with getting crap for it at boot camp, in case he was worried about me.
The SSgt asked me what difference did it really make. Based off of what you said in your blog posts and on the phone, the comments in the posts, and my own thoughts, I said that if I had No-Rel-Pref I was running the risk of having different chaplains trying to convert me, being told I had to go to service, and that No-Rel-Pref indicated I was okay with any form of Protestantism when I wasn’t, and that I was an atheist so my package should reflect that.
He replied that I’d never be forced to go to a service, and that chaplains weren’t going to try to convert me (I hope that was true for him when he went through boot camp, but clearly that isn’t the case for everyone).
Again, the SSgt asked me what difference did it really make. I told him simply, “I’m an atheist.” He gave me a slightly exasperated look, and said “Fine.” At that point my recruiter, who had just arrived, came up behind me, and the SSgt looked at him and told him to update my package.
I went with the recruiter to his desk. He mentioned that he admired my tenacity, and the fact that I knew I was right and had gone to the trouble of finding the manual online with the list showing that I was right.
We joked a bit while he logged on to his computer, brought up my package, checked the spelling with me, typed in ‘Atheist’ in two spots, and hit the save button. I asked him if I needed to sign something or do anything else. He said no, he just needed to upload my package again to MEPS to reflect the update, and said that the GySgt there might call him and give him a hard time about it, but he’d handle it. [**Justin Griffith says: see? a few clicks, signatures and BAM! All fixed. There was absolutely no reason for them not to fix their mistake.**]
He said not to worry, it wasn’t my fault if the GySgt got on his case for the change. I laughed, said of course it was my fault, I’m the problem recruit, and started singing the first few lines of the chorus from Weezer’s song “Troublemaker” (I’m a troublemaker/never been a faker/doing things my own way/and never giving up). He grinned and joked back that he’d started to shave his head when they told him I was going to be assigned to him, because he figured it was less painful to scalp himself than to pull his hair out after dealing with me.
He then asked me what the real difference was between No-Rel-Pref and Atheist was. I said “No-Rel-Pref means you believe in some supernatural entity, you just don’t particularly care about how you interact with it. An atheist doesn’t believe in the existence of a supernatural entity at all.” I remembered one of the comments from your blog that I liked, so I added, “It’s like going into Baskin Robbins; No-Rel-Pref means you don’t particularly care which flavor you get, so long as you get some ice cream, but Atheist means you don’t want ice cream in the first place.” He thought about it for a second, grinned, and said okay.
The fact that my recruiter really wanted to know what the difference between No-Rel-Pref and Atheist was struck me as very encouraging, and cool. Like I said before, the Marines at my RS are all good men, and I’m lucky to have them as my recruiters.
My recruiter and I chatted a bit regarding holiday plans, and he told me to call if I needed anything, stay out of trouble, enjoy the time with my family. He wished me a Merry Christmas, I wished him a Happy Holidays, and then I left. I’m sure someone will think, “all that worry and drama for nothing,” but he or she would be mistaken; it was a big deal to me, and I’m relieved that it went well and that it’s over.
I want to thank you again for your support in this matter, both online and over the phone. I read all three blog posts from that day, and all the comments on the blog, on Facebook and Reddit. Some of the experiences people shared were heartbreaking, some infuriating, some encouraging, but all of them helped me to see that yes, fixing my package is the right thing to do, and the time to do it is now. I hope you understand how wonderful it was to know that there was someone I could turn to for help when I wasn’t at all sure of what to do. Thank you, and to the online atheist community, for being there to share your strength with me, and for being visible and vocal so those who need help know exactly where to go. I’m looking forward to the day I can proudly share a photo of my Atheist dog tags with all of you.
Thank you, Sgt Griffith. Keep up the good work.