An Army aviation unit at Fort Rucker, Alabama, responsible for training helicopter pilots, including Muslims from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, is being criticized and threatened with legal action for using the Crusader Cross as a unit patch.
"It's just sad, and the command is just -- they want to push their own views on everyone, the soldiers and civilians, on their version of Christianity, whether we like it or not," a UH-60 Blackhawk systems instructor told Military.com Thursday in a telephone interview.
"It's horrible. We have Saudi students coming through, Jordanian, Israeli Defense Force students coming through -- and they look at this patch and they've said, 'How can America be going into the Middle Eastern countries with a patch that has a red cross that says Crusaders across the front of it?'" he said.
"I mean it [the Crusades] was a horrible time, where even the Catholic Pope said that was a dark time in Christianity, in our history," he added.
The instructor, who spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals, said the international students do not complain to the command because they fear they would be reported to their own militaries and sent home.
Last November the same unit, Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment, came under fire by a religious watchdog group for itsuse of the Crusader Cross and shield. Military.com was unable to learn on Thursday whether the Crusader image still appeared on the unit sign, but it does show up on the company's military-only website, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which was provided screen captures of the site.
The site also includes a feature called "Crusader of the Month," highlighting the work of unit members.
Military.com's call to Fort Rucker's public affairs office was not returned. Military.com also reached out by email to Capt. Stephen Tamborelli, commander of E Company, and several others in the command chain, including Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, commander of Fort Rucker. No one has responded to date.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the foundation, said he has sent a letter to Gayler on behalf of 42 civilian and military personnel at Rucker, demanding he "immediately cease and desist from utilizing all 'Crusader' terminology and imagery with Echo Company."
Weinstein said Gayler has had seven months to consider and act on the foundation's demand from November "and have done nothing."
"If you do not immediately comply with our demands, our foundation will go into Federal Court to force you to so comply," he said.
Weinstein said using Crusader imagery is a boost to groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Taliban and al-Qaida, who frame their fight against the U.S. as part of a centuries old fight against Christian Crusaders attempting to dominate the Middle East.
Weinstein told Military.com that 23 of his group's Rucker clients are Christians, while others are Muslim, Jewish, atheist and agnostic.
But it's not only Muslims feeling upset with the alleged pro-evangelical Christian command climate. The Blackhawk instructor, a member of a smaller Christian denomination, said even he has been subjected to disparaging comments and actions because of his faith.
"I've had the lights turned off on me when I was going the bathroom," he said, adding that his complaints to command went nowhere. "I've had nothing but problems."
The instructor said that some six weeks ago unit members were told they would have to take Army training programs, including on safety, suicide prevention and more, at Enterprise Baptist Church, about nine miles from Fort Rucker. Other times training has been held at Grace Place Church, also in Enterprise, he said.
After he told his supervisors he was not comfortable being forced to attend a church for training and asked for an alternative venue, he said: "They ended up responding with a blast email [to the unit] that we were unprofessional and not supporting our unit and so forth."
The instructor said there is no shortage of space on the fort that would justify holding Army training at a church. He and others who balked at going to the church for training were told they could take leave time if they had a problem with the venue, he said.
"This was not right," he said.