Nov 1, 2012 2:10 AM by Andy Koen
COLORADO SPRINGS - Participants in a Religious Respect Conference held this week at the US Air Force Academy had nothing but praise for the reforms instituted on campus with respect to the issue of faith.
The bi-annual gathering of over 20 religious leaders from both the military and the public met on Tuesday and Wednesday to review and discuss the Academy's new Religious Respect Training program for cadets.
Col. Robert Bruno, the Air Force Academy Chaplain, says large strides that have been made in changing the culture here since their last conference in 2010.
"We have a great story to tell here," Bruno said. "When they met here in 2010, we only had a tiny piece of of the concept developed. We hadn't even field deployed it."
Aside from the highly publicized scandal surrounding issues of proselytizing in the mid to late 2000's, Bruno said the military has a very practical reason for teaching religious tolerance and respect to it's future officers.
He explains that officers were being deployed to the Middle East and Southwest Asia with little training or understanding of the local religious traditions.
"There's no such thing as separation of church and state over there," he said. "Religion and culture and country and government have been united for centuries."
"We would send officers over there who thought the religion over there was the same as it was over and they were making well intentioned decisions that were having disastrous consequences."
Religious Respect Training is now a mandatory part of every cadet's instruction, a change that Bruno says could only have come with backing of the senior Academy leadership.
"I think probably one of the most notable things was to hear the statements by the cadets," said Retired Navy Chaplain Cpt. Charles Marvin, who attended the conference representing the Assemblies of God.
The cadets also impressed Kate Holbrook, a chaplain at Colorado College who was representing the Association of College and University Religious Affairs at the conference.
"To see them articulate that, their ability to know where they are but also know what's appropriate and not in terms of sharing so that there aren't issues of proselytizing," she said.
Academy Muslim Chaplain Mohammed Jodeh came to Colorado Springs in 2010. He points to the accommodations given to Muslim cadets such as special dietary needs, and the ability to leave formation for Friday services as being more free than in Turkey.
"From first hand experience, what I saw during the last year, (Muslim cadets are) very much accepted and respected also."
Scott Levin, the Rocky Mountain Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League added, "I believe that the Air Force Academy is working in a very purposeful manner to make it so that there is a culture of respect for all cadets no matter what their religious beliefs."
Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs attended the conference as the representative for Catholics in all of the Military. "The intensity with wich they are going at this problem, I was very impressed," he said.