A controversial decision by local commanders to again refer to a Beaufort F-18 squadron as the "Crusaders" has been reversed by a three-star general, according to Marine Corps officials.
Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, deputy commandant for aviation, issued an order April 30 that Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 discontinue use of the Crusaders moniker and a logo that featured a red cross on a white shield. The squadon will retain its identity as the "Werewolves," said Lt. Col. Joseph Plenzler, a Corps spokesman.
Robling's order came about a month after the unit's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Wade Wiegel, announced during a 70th anniversary party that the unit would again be known as the Crusaders, a nickname used by the unit from 1959 to January 2008.
In 2008, it was changed back to its World War II-era nickname, the Werewolves, before a combat deployment to Iraq later that year. The name change was partly because unit commanders thought the Crusaders nickname would not be well-received by Iraqis and others in the region.
Wiegel's decision to return to Crusaders drew the scorn of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an Albuquerque, N.M., group that demanded that the squadron stop using the Crusaders name, which the group claimed illegally blurred the lines between church and state.
The group also alleged that the nickname and its insignia would stir anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world because they evoke images of the Christian conquests during the Middle Ages.
A spokeswoman for MCAS Beaufort said the nickname was not created with religion in mind but instead was a reference to the F8U-1 Crusader aircraft the squadron began flying in 1957.
Given how the nickname is now perceived, Robling thought it best to discontinue its use, according to a spokesman for the general at Headquarters Marine Corps in Virginia.
"In the modern context, in contrast to the original use, 'Crusader' does not adequately represent the Marine Corps," said Capt. Richard Ulsh.
Corps officials confirmed that tail art on the unit's F-18 Hornets, squadron patches and other places where the Crusader logo once appeared have been changed in accordance with Robling's order.
Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the foundation, told MSNBC that the decision to abandon the controversial nickname was a "great victory" but stopped short of thanking Marine Corps brass.
"We commend the Marine Corps, but ... the Marines Corps does not get a gold star for doing the right thing, because they shouldn't have done the wrong thing in the first place," Weinstein told MSNBC.