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Investigation into Fort Gordon religious complaint is completed

By SUSAN MCCORD | The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. | Published: November 17, 2017

FORT GORDON, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Gordon officials have completed an investigation into an incident in which dozens of soldiers said they were marched to an Oct. 14 “spiritual fitness” barbecue and made to undergo fundamentalist Christian proselytizing against their will.

According to correspondence obtained Thursday by The Augusta Chronicle, the investigation found that post leadership intended the event to be voluntary, but miscommunication led some to believe their attendance was mandatory.

“Our intent is now to take immediate and long-term action to ensure that these types of events are understood by all to be strictly voluntary,” said Col. Samuel Anderson, chief of staff for the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon.

The head of the organization that represented 43 primarily Protestant and Roman Catholic service members in a complaint against post leadership said he is pleased with the outcome and is now communicating the results to his clients.

“They admitted they screwed up; they admitted they could do this better,” said Mikey Weinstein, executive director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. “It’s very unlikely this is going to happen again.”

Weinstein said Anderson did a great job working with him to handle the complaint, although Weinstein said he’ll push to learn whether those responsible will face formal discipline.

“It’s our hope that those that did engage in the misconduct will face some degree of disciplinary action,” he said.

Changes being implemented include training for Advanced Individual Training leaders that communication for religious events must always be voluntary, with written materials emphasizing their voluntary nature, according to the correspondence.

Weinstein said the young solders were wise to complain to his organization rather than follow a chain of command through their superiors, the equal opportunity office or a chaplain.

“They come to us precisely because we offer AARP,” he said. “Anonymity, action, results and protection.”

susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com

©2017 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)
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