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Jewish War Veterans Convention
Cadet 2nd Class Jolie Grossman, Cadet Squardron 23, and Protestant Chaplain (Capt.) Shawn Menchion meet retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs during the 116th annual Jewish War Veterans Convention in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 9-13 (Photo by Christy Turner)
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Cadets attend Jewish War Veterans convention

Posted 8/18/2011   Updated 8/18/2011 Email story   Print story


by Maj. Don Kerr
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

8/18/2011 - JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Two Air Force Academy chaplains and two cadets attended the 116th-annual Jewish War Veterans Convention in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 9-13 to discuss the Academy's religious respect program and give JWV members some insight into the life of a Jewish cadet here.

Jewish Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Narrowe and Protestant Chaplain (Capt.) Shawn Menchion represented the Academy's Chaplain Corps at the convention. Cadet 2nd Class Jolie Grossman from Cadet Squadron 23 and Cadet 3rd Class David Harris from CS 11 also attended to provide their perspective as cadets.

Chaplain Narrowe began his presentation by pointing out to the audience some of the unique dynamics at the Academy for the more than 1,100 new cadets each year.

"When they enter the Academy, as cadets they are expected to understand the military and Air Force cultures," Narrowe said. "Then they learn about Academy culture and, more specifically, the Cadet Wing culture. This all happens within about six weeks. In terms of religious respect, we have two training opportunities for these new cadets, where they learn about their First Amendment rights and the importance of understanding religious respect."

The chaplain said the Academy makes an important distinction between respect and tolerance. Here, cadets are expected to respect each other regardless of their particular faith or non-faith, which goes beyond mere toleration.

The Academy offers a variety of programs to accommodate services and discussion groups for all walks of faith, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and members of Earth-Centered religions. Chaplains encourage interfaith discussions among cadets and provide opportunities for cadets to learn and grow from regular interactions with people whose faiths they may never before have encountered.

Grossman brought a unique perspective to the group as a product of a mixed-faith childhood in California; her mother was Catholic and her father was Jewish.

"In true California fashion, they taught me the importance of being not only tolerant, but respectful to all," she said.

A junior, Grossman answered questions from the JWV on the religious atmosphere at the Academy and rumors of possible anti-Semitism.

"Throughout basic training and my time as a cadet, I haven't been treated any differently than a Christian would be," Grossman said. "I have been allowed to miss training events in order to attend services and allowed to leave campus to observe holidays because the Academy recognizes that religion helps people get through tough times."

She went on to share some of her experiences at the Academy, such as being selected as the master of ceremonies for a Holocaust luncheon and traveling to Israel with U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen and U.S. Military Academy cadets.

Harris explained that the Academy does has a "zero-tolerance policy on being intolerant" and said he felt positive about his experiences as a Jewish cadet.

"I have never been approached by someone who has attempted to sway my beliefs," Harris said. "So where is the unwelcoming environment of anti-Semitism that I was warned about? In my opinion, it doesn't exist."

The chapel staff publishes an interfaith calendar with religious holiday entries as Notices to Airmen, which are distributed to the entire cadet community, Menchion said during a briefing on the principles of the Academy religious respect training program.

The program focuses on First Amendment protections, religious rights, fostering religious dialogue, respecting human dignity and practicing moral courage.

The Air Force Academy is the only U.S. military academy with a religious diversity program, Menchion said. He talked about the Academy's leadership model and how it builds and evolves to different levels throughout a cadet's four years of education and leadership training.

"The training is not only designed to introduce cadets to new religions and faiths, but to teach receptiveness and having an open mind to other faith religions and beliefs," Menchion said.

Harris sought to put to bed the rumors of an atmosphere of intolerance.

"In my experience, the atmosphere of the Academy is one of respect for everyone. And I am proud to say that I am indeed a Jewish cadet at the United States Air Force Academy," he said.

The Jewish War Veterans National Convention was headlined by retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Army Maj. Gen. Emmitt Titshaw.

The event is designed to update its members on military affairs. It is composed of Jewish U.S. citizens who are American war veterans promoting patriotism, upholding universal rights of liberty, equality, justice and the fair rights of Jews everywhere.

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