Conversations With Naomi: Brian Singer - Armed and Jewish

Recently I met Brian Singer, a modern day American GI who describes himself on Twitter: I'm a US Army NCO interested in liberty, gun rights, Austrian economics and occasionally cooking.

I asked Brian if he had seen any antisemitism during his time in the military. Brian has generously agreed to go on record here to discuss issues relating to being Jewish in the military.

Naomi: What's a nice Jewish boy doing in a place like this? Can you please share what brought you into the US Army and your time line of where you have been?
Brian: Like many Americans, after 9-11, I found myself compelled to take some kind of action. It wasn't so much that I wanted to go to war, but that I saw war coming. I knew a lot of young American men and women would be going off to battle, and I decided I just couldn't stand on the sidelines and not participate. I thought that being ten to fifteen years older than the typical recruit, I might have some knowledge or skills that could possibly help bring a few of them home safely. I didn't join to kill terrorists, or Arabs or anything else, I joined to led a hand, because I just couldn't face the idea of sending so many off to do our dirty work, without contributing something.

Since joining the Army, my eyes have been opened, and I have become much more anti-war. I have no regrets about my decision, but I have come to realize I was somewhat deluded in my motivation.

Naomi: I saw online in the Army Times that you were promoted to Staff Sergeant in January 2009. Would you like to discuss this process? Did being Jewish ever come up at this time?

Brian: First, I was promoted to Sergeant, not Staff Sergeant, and in fact have turned down the opportunity to compete for Staff Sergeant. I don't recall that being Jewish ever came up as part of that process.

Naomi: Can you please share your family background with our readers?

Brian: Well, without going in to the whole history, I was born and raised in northern Minnesota. My parents divorced when I was about two, so I was largely raised by my Mother. My Dad was definitely a part of my life, but this was before the days of joint custody agreements. Anyway, I have one sister who still lives in Minnesota with her husband and two daughters. I've been married since 1993, and have three children: a daughter thirteen, a son fifteen, and a daughter twenty.

Naomi: What “types” of antisemitism have you seen during your time in the US Army stateside? I had seen an article on this subject, and you told me on Twitter that: "Fort Hood actually dedicates chapel time to "Messianic-Jewish" services." Please tell us about this. Do you consider proselytizing as antisemitic behavior?

Brian: Yes, I do consider proselytizing, in the context of the Army to be anti-Semitic. In the private world, no, I don't. The Army Chaplain corps, of which in general, I have an extremely favorable view, is charged with the dual mission of providing spiritual support to the troops, as well as moral and religious guidance to military commanders. Typically, each command, Battalion size and above has a chaplain. Of course, the majority are Christian, but there are a few Rabbis, Muslim clerics and all sorts of other assorted religions represented. In general, Chaplains are there to provide support to soldiers, however they aren't allowed to actively proselytize. Most tend to abide by this. They wouldn't join the Chaplain corps in the first place if they felt this was too much of a burden.

But then we come to the issue of so called Messianic Jews. This really isn't a religion. It's a movement. There are a number of national organizations with a variety of names, but they share a similar purpose: Converting Jews by disguising Christianity in Jewish practice. The fact remains though, that there is one word for a Jew who believes in Jesus as a divine being: A Christian.

The Army doesn't allow any other kind of active religious recruiting on its posts or in its facilities. Yet for some reason, a group that exists for the sole purpose of converting Jews to Christianity through acts of deception, is allowed and sanctioned. I find this objectionable, and it shows a lack of understanding and a lack of respect for Jews in the ranks.

The Army makes a very big deal out of its Equal Opportunity Program (EO) these days. In addition to required quarterly training, the Army sponsors all sorts of group specific events. Asian/Pacific Islander heritage week, Hispanic history month, Black History month, women's history month, and the manuals and regulations even require official acknowledgment of Yom Hashoah. Of course over the last six years I've seen all of the above accept the last celebrated, or acknowledged or whatever term you want to use. Each unit in the Army has a designated EO representative, and I have yet to see one put in any kind of effort to so much as comply with that regulation.

Finally, there's antisemitism in day to day life. While anything that could be remotely interpreted as being racist or sexist can trigger a full blown investigation, I've lost track of the number of times I've heard "Jew you down", "all they care about is money" etc. etc. Often these kinds of remarks can simply be overheard in passing. There have been many times I've confronted other soldiers about such comments, and others where I've simply ignored it and gone on about my business. In my experience, these types of ideas come often out of sheer ignorance. Yet for all the effort that goes in to educating soldiers about racism and sexism, and even cultural awareness of Muslim traditions and practices, I have yet to ever hear the subject of antisemitism addressed in any of these quarterly training sessions I've attended since I've been in. It's as if the Army just doesn't care.

Naomi: What kind of antisemitism have you seen during your time in the US Army overseas? What would you like to say about your time in Iraq?

Brian: Strangely, overseas I haven't experienced it as much. While stationed in Germany, I was given the time to travel down to Landstuhl to attend Jewish services whenever I wanted. Heck, once a full bird colonel who I barely knew, let me sleep on his couch on erev Yom Kippur. In Iraq, I was going to fly to Liberty once for a Seder and my flight got grounded due to a dust storm. My unit was going to put together a convoy to drive me there. I turned this down, as I just couldn't justify putting other peoples' lives at risk just so I could attend a Seder. But I digress... Anyway, I have not experienced anti Semitism in the Army strictly tied to being overseas.

Naomi: What, if anything, do you think can be done to combat anti Jewish sentiment and overt antisemitism in the military?

Education. The Army could do a better job of educating its members about the history of Jews in the Army, and our unique contribution to American history.

Naomi: I read the excellent article that you wrote, posted by J. Neil Schulman that was published by Stars and Stripes after the Fort Hood shootings. Can you please discuss the "gun control" in the military, or what you call “anti-self-defense policy?

Brian: I'm quite proud of that article actually. I think it stands on its own, so quote away. If your readers are interested in why I am so passionate about this issue, I would suggest they look up Jews for The Preservation of Firearms Ownership. This group has done truly unique research in to the connection between victim disarmament and genocide.

Bases’ anti-self-defense policy
Stars and Stripes
Published: November 19, 2009

The tragic results of victim disarmament were made real with the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. If this were a moral and proper world, as soon as the suspect, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, drew his weapon, every person in the building would have had their sights leveled on him.

U.S. military installations’ immoral and unjust anti-self-defense policy disarmed only the victims of this crime. How many more events like this is it going to take before Defense Department officials realize that victim disarmament costs lives and Congress amends the Uniform Code of Military Justice to require all civilian and military personnel to be properly armed (meaning not simply carrying an unloaded weapon) while on U.S. military installations?

In many states, citizens choose to be responsible for protecting their own lives and property by arming themselves. It is the ultimate expression of patriotism and good citizenship.

Fort Hood is my home station. It sickens me that when my wife needs to go on post she, too, has to surrender her right to defend herself by going unarmed.

Stateside military installations have become the country’s largest gun-free zones (playgrounds for criminals). How many lives would have been saved on Sept. 11, 2001, if people weren’t stripped of their right to self-defense because they wanted to fly? How many lives would have been saved at Virginia Tech, Columbine and now Fort Hood?

Those who advocate policies that guarantee the criminal class has unfettered access to defenseless, potential victims need to change their tune.

Lawmakers and DOD need to ensure that those of us who took the oath to defend the Constitution have the means available to live up to that oath.

Modifying installation policies and the UCMJ to remove all restrictions on carrying firearms would be a small step in the right direction.

Sgt. Brian Singer
Camp Taji, Iraq

Naomi: Where were you during the Fort Hood tragedy?

Brian: I was in Baghdad.

Naomi: What does it mean to you to be Jewish in the US Military?

Brian: While in Washington, DC, I went to a small museum, that is not very well known, run by America's oldest veteran's group. Yep, Jewish War Veterans is older than the American Legion, the VFW and any others you can think of. Anyway, it's called The National Museum Of American Jewish Military History. They're on the web too, look them up. Anyway, Jews have proudly served in the ranks since the Revolution. My father served in the Army, several uncles and a whole host of other distant relatives. No one in my family has ever made the military a career, but I do see military service an a proud tradition in my family, and the Jewish community as a whole.

Naomi: How does your family feel about your career choice?

Brian: In general, they have been very supportive. The Army has been beneficial in a lot of ways for my family. However, it's come at a pretty high price. In the six and a half years that I've been in the Army, I've just recently come up on a total of two years at home.

Naomi: Will you stay in the Army?

Brian: No. I'll be out of the Army in April.

Naomi: What issues do you see on Twitter that gets your blood boiling?

Brian: Neoconservatives, anti Semites, racists, gay bashers... Pretty much any kind of discrimination just gets to me.

Naomi: Is there a burning issue that you’d like to discuss for further commenting from readers?

Brian: I don't know if this is so much a burning issue, but here goes: As you know, I'm not exactly the world's most politically correct guy. I say what I think. Just as a lot of my ideas about things put me at odds with family and friends, the same is true for the Jewish community. My stance on the evils of gun control is one example. I'm a libertarian, and this doesn't exactly sit real well with many Jews. I think more often than not, American Jews ally themselves with the left politically. So be it.

The issue I'm really trying to bring up is Israel. See, here's my thing: Israel is a state, like any other. I love my own country, and that love drives me to be very critical of it. Same thing goes with Israel. I don't believe that a government is necessarily the same thing as the people who live within the boarders of a given country. So I define myself as a committed Zionist, in the sense that I support the Jewish people being able to act in their own best interests, and to be able to defend their own property rights. That does not mean in any way though that I think the State of Israel is beyond criticism. I mean think about it, that makes as much sense as saying that our own country is beyond criticism. So I tend to get it from both sides. More often than not, when it comes to being critical of Israel, the blogosphere tends to descend rapidly into hatred and conspiracy theories, and I just won't give those people the time of day. On the other hand, it's equally hard to find American Jews who are willing to voice anything but support for the State.

Naomi: Thank you Brian for sharing all of this! Is it o.k. if our readers follow you on Twitter? Brian Singer on Twitter @armedandjewish

Brian: Sure, thanks.