I really do hate posting politics, but there are some things that need to be said. So rather than go on a rant, let me tell you a story…
When I went to basic training, I was the only Mormon. Where I grew up in Denver, that wasn’t uncommon at all, and in school my sisters and I were usually the only ones, so when I got to basic training it felt like a normal religious ratio to me. Being in this situation, I clung desperately to my beliefs, and, although I don’t consider myself to be a practicing Mormon now, I am still sure that I found the strength to make it through training at least in part because of my beliefs.
Growing up in this church was interesting, to say the least. We were always warned that the rest of the world was trying to lead us astray, one step at a time. To have to stand up for my religious beliefs were a normal, everyday thing for me. Part of that became something of a platoon joke throughout training, as the Drill Sergeants (Drill Sergeant Sanchez especially comes to mind in this instance) would tell someone to cover my ears before they would go on an expletive-laced rant.
One day, a couple months into training when we were in the middle of BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship), our company was sat down in the huge classroom and shown the movie Saving Private Ryan, as a way to emphasize the importance of our rifles. As the movie started to play, I looked down at the desk surface that I was sitting at and tried to figure out what I should do. For those who don’t know, in the church we’re told not to watch any R-rated movies.
I remember someone from my platoon asking me about that, “You’re not supposed to see this, are you?” or something like that. I shook my head, and after some final debating I got up to leave the room. As one would expect, the Drill Sergeants pitched a fit and ordered me back to my seat. That night after final formation, Senior Drill Sergeant wanted to see me. I remember the emotions running through me because I was so emotional and terrified that I couldn’t properly express why I walked out. He thought I was dishonoring our brothers who fought in World War II. I don’t think he ever understood that it wouldn’t have mattered what movie, that it wasn’t the subject matter at all, but just my attempts to follow the guidance given by my church leaders.
That was really the only major time in training that my religious convictions were put to test. I managed to go to church every week, though I went through a few different “battle buddies” for services. Given that it was just the two of us going, that it was a 2-hour service, and the time/location it was, we always rode to church with the two Muslims that were in my company. I don’t remember the one’s name, but the other was Majid.
My basic was back in 2001, right after the Trade Center attacks. Even then we didn’t have the fear and hate of Muslims in our country as is going on now. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about the religion, and these two that I rode to church with every week were the only contact I’d ever had with, so all I knew was based on their actions.
Our training fell over Christmas, so we had what they called Exodus, a two-week break where they send us home to our families and we come back to finish our training. To do this, we all stood in formation for a couple days outside the base travel office in order to get our plane tickets home. This is when Majid and his battle buddy made a huge impression on me.
The Army has a policy that you will be allowed to practice your religion. While we were waiting outside the travel office, it came time for one of the prayers in accordance with the Muslim religion. Majid and his battle brought this up to their platoon’s Drill Sergeant, who basically blew them off and told them to get back in formation. They refused. It was something to see, as Majid had at least half a foot and fifty pounds on the Drill Sergeant. They seemed to be at an impasse for several minutes, but then the Drill Sergeant either caved or realized he was wrong to deny them their religious ritual when there was no “good” reason to disallow them the minutes they needed.
The Drill Sergeants vacated a small tent they had set up for shade to give them their privacy for their prayers. The following Sunday on the ride to church I told them that their actions made a big impression on me. I was proud of them for making a stand for their beliefs. They told me that they were equally proud of my stand concerning the movie. When basic training was over I got Majid’s email address, though I lost it during one move or another before I was able to write. I’ve always wished I was able to stay in touch with them.
They showed me that there are “good” Muslims. Majid and his friend were two of the best men I’ve had the honor to know. We had a mutual respect for each other, despite being of separate religions. Every time I begin to fall into the fear the media is spreading, I remind myself of this kind man. A man who is my brother, not just in mankind, but as a soldier, an MP. An American.