Tech. Sgt. Robert Longcrier (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
On a hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and Visitor Center of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Tech. Sgt. Robert Longcrier is burning white sage, consecrating a circle of stones that will soon be used by cadets as a place to worship Mother Earth and the Horned God.
According to an official release from the Colorado Springs, Colo., university and air base wing, the chapel is adding this new worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions, including Paganism, Druidism and the form of witchcraft known as Wicca. The official dedication ceremony is tentatively scheduled for March 10.
Longcrier, who became Pagan shortly after arriving at the Academy in 2006, celebrates that the new worship circle represents an increasing level of acceptance of pagan religion:
“When I first arrived here, Earth-centered cadets didn’t have anywhere to call home,” he said. “Now, they meet every Monday night, they get to go on retreats and they have a stone circle. … We have representation on the Cadet Interfaith Council, and I even meet with the chaplains at Peterson Air Force Base once a year to discuss religious climate.”
The stone and earth circle is only the latest addition to a collection of worship spaces on the Academy campus, including Protestant Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces.
“Every servicemember is charged with defending freedom for all Americans, and that includes freedom to practice our religion of choice or, for that matter, not to practice any faith at all,” says Lt. Col. William Ziegler, Cadet Wing chaplain. “Being in the military isn’t just a job – it’s a calling. We all take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and that means we’ve all sworn to protect one another’s religious liberties. We all put on our uniforms the same way; we’re all Airmen first.”
Longcrier had previously established a temporary worship ring in Jacks Valley, a 3,300-acre training complex on the campus that provides the ground for several forms of obstacle and cadet-training courses.
According to the Air Force statement, the stones that now form the inner and outer rings of the new worship circle once sat near the Visitor Center, but the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron moved the rocks to the top of the hill in spring and early summer. Elements of Longcrier’s Jacks Valley ring will also be included in the new worship space.
Longcrier attests that the Academy’s chaplains have supported his efforts in every step of making a space for Pagans to worship:
“There really haven’t been any obstacles for the new circle,” he said. “The chaplain’s office has been 100-percent supportive.”
Chaplain Ziegler added, “We want to invite the Academy leadership, the Cadet Interfaith Council, the news media and people from every religious background for the dedication ceremony. We want this dedication service to be another example of celebrating the freedom we enjoy as well as the freedom we, as Airmen, have pledged to defend.”