After I got to Nellis AFB, NV in Jan. ’69, I was assigned to the 430th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) (F-111A) as a Weapons Load Officer.  One of my enlisted supervisors was TSgt. Leon Jones.  Lee was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, and very proud of it.

One morning we had a ‘Mobility Exercise.’  This is an exercise where we had to show up at the squadron with all required our deployment materials.  Our deployment bags (with 2 weeks of clothes), shot records, dog tags, and so forth.  They had a long table set in in our hanger where we ‘processed.’  I was in line right behind Leon.

When Lee got to the dog tag guy he discovered his tags were out of date – for whatever reason.  No worries, they had the dog tag stamping machine right there.  When they asked for his religious preference he replied “Heathen.”  At first they didn’t realize he was a Cherokee Indian.  But they went ahead and made it for him anyway.

I thought this was pretty cool, so I claimed I lost mine.  (2nd Lts. can get away with damn-near anything – “they” think we are all dumb-shits!)  So, when I was asked my religious preference, why not?  “Heathen.”  Thinking that was “cool” lasted only until I got to the Chaplain’s station!  Ever had your ass chewed by a Chaplain?  Not fun!

And so now, in 2013, I have had replica dog tags made with “Heathen” on them as my religious preference…. but for a totally difference reason.

I was raised in the Lutheran church, and still consider that my “religion.”  But my “spirituality” is more aligned with the Native American, or Indian spirituality I have embraced since sobriety.  Nature based, non-biased, not a great deal of “dogma,” – it just speaks to me so much more than the Lutheran church does these days.  And I am so comfortable with it… and I am at Peace.

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