Cold War account of why Mormons were over-represented as military translators

This is an excerpt from a very funny atheist Army veteran.

I had no idea that many Mormons use/used the military as a way to learn languages for their missionary work. It makes sense.

Late in her career, she describes being harassed simply for being pregnant or a woman, etc. The harassers were the same religious people who spent so much time trying to convert her.

I was in from 1987-1990 during the end of the cold war when interrogators went to language school for a year or so.

But the religious stuff started at Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey. You know about the National Guard allowing Mormon missionaries to defer their 2 years inactive time in service so they can leave AIT and proceed right to Provo to start their 2 year missions, right?

Then when they return from the mission, they come back and now they have 2 foreign languages under their belts. Six years of Guard later they’re good to go if they want. I seriously think at least a quarter of my barracks at DLI was Mormon.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But they were either looking forward to a mission, or had just come back from one and it felt like they were constantly on the make. There were some very relaxed Mormons who had done their missions and that was that, let’s go surfing, sure I’ll be your designated driver!

But the others, especially the active duty NCOs, were constantly trying to get you alone to talk about religion. The evangelicals were just as bad, if not worse. You’re at a school that if you fail out you’re going to end up being an 88M (truck driver) or whatever the army has in store for you. A year is a long time with lots of opportunities for the instructors to fail you (Russian was the worst-the class I was supposed to be in began with around 150 people and a year later ended up graduating something like 45!). So when the environment turned smoky with religion it was truly just an annoyance, nothing more. But you would be surprised how that annoyance can build and build, no matter how zen you try to feel about it.

When I got to my permanent duty station I found, to my delight, many non religious people like me. But the 1SG was Mormon, the XO was born again, and within days a guy in a neighboring unit had me on his radar for conversion. When the Wall came down we no longer had a mission and spent a lot of time doing maintenance busy work and I found myself working in the chow hall.

I must have had a huge bullseye on my forehead with a cross in the middle of it. Somebody had gotten the idea that I was a very religious person and I was invited almost every day to some bible study function or Christian movie showing. Never went. Finally told them that I was not EVER going to attend any of these functions. They got upset and next thing I know I’m on gate duty out in the freaking German winter arguing with Albanian plumbers who were trying to bring onto the base extra family to help with our always broken toilets, you know, so they can hold the tools for me when I am fixing, you know? You know? 

I had been engaged for over a year when my fiance came over from Bragg for vacation. When he left two weeks later it turned out I was two weeks pregnant! Most everybody was happy for me. Our unit was being deactivated, everybody was planning what they were going to do after getting out (almost everyone was going to be given an early ETS). The ones not happy for me had some pretty unoriginal things to say about pregnancy out of wedlock, even though I had cashed in my unused leave to head back to the states to have a formal wedding a few weeks after we got the news.

Then they switched from the bastard-harlot- repent stuff to women shouldn’t be in the army for this very reason, you are a waste of money and training. Funny, I couldn’t get off their good sides until I got pregnant and married, and was leaving the service like just about everyone in the unit was planning on doing and not soon enough for anybody! The only thing that finally stopped the religious harassment was Saddam Hussein rolling into Kuwait and changing everybody’s plans for the future.

I miss all the cool people from my unit. I worried about them like crazy when I got to Bragg to start our family. I worried they would all be gassed or blown up, all my floor buffing, ditch digging fellow interrogators. I didn’t relax until I got word they were on their way home and out of the service.

Bragg was one giant yellow ribbon. There were Reserve chaplains EVERYWHERE. Every spouse in my Pray for the troops stickers are dumb, buy troops a beer insteadhusband’s unit was a praying spouse. There were prayer groups at someone’s house every night. Two and a half months after my daughter was born the doctors found a weird tumor that took 6 months inpatient at Duke to deal with. People said they were praying for us, but cars don’t run on prayers and you can’t eat them either. It’s amazing I didn’t murder anyone who offered to pray with me.

Twenty years and three more children later my husband is retired, employed and we have a handy tool in our arsenal. He is our Unitarian-Universalist minister who has been running interference for us at the hospital where my oldest is being treated for cancer again. He keeps the zealous Christian hospital chaplain away from us, speaks my Humanist language, and knows how to comfort my family without religious nonsense. You can’t put a price on that kind of peace of mind. Having someone in a position of influence in your world who is on the same religious page as you is about as good as it gets.

I’m proud of you taking the heat so that future soldiers won’t have to deal with the pervasive religious quicksand in the military. You’re leading the way. After all, when we raised our hands at enlistment it was to protect and defend The Constitution, not the bible. Bullies are bullies, no matter if they say they are praying for you. You have my support and respect.

-Sister Battleaxe of Tolerance

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  • Lance

    For the record, Mormons do not go to DLI to learn a language for their mission. If they do, I’ve never seen it and I’m an exmormon UT National Guardsman in the 300 MI BDE (Linguist) which is the primary unit that sends so many Mormons to DLI. Furthermore, the LDS Church’s system for assigning missions is somewhat sporadic and even if you learned a language at DLI, the chance you would end up on a mission using that language is low to impossible (no proselytizing is allowed in any Arabic speaking country I’m aware of for example)

    What does happen is that returned missionaries who speak a language like Spanish join the military and then go to DLI to learn something like Arabic. Utah has a lot of multilingual people because of the LDS Church and the military/government have done their best to take advantage of it.

    That said, I can totally identify with the experiences related here. Being forced to kneel in formation once really pissed me off to no end for example. But generally, I’d say the Mormons actually do a good job of keeping things secular in my unit and the split is about 50% good LDS to 50% inactive LDS/other religion/irreligious.

  • Dan Rawlings

    I definitely feel you there! I went to DLI, and was Ex-Mormon while I was there. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dan Rawlings

    Actually on this one I hafta agree with Lance – Mormons…. usually…. really respect the separation of church and state –

    They kinda had a big thing with polygamy… didn’t enjoy the government intervention there.

    However, it does not diminish the story – I definitely sympathize.


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