As a brand-new infantry private at Fort Benning in the summer of 1995, one Friday evening, shortly after arrival, I requested, publicly, in the squad bay from my drill sergeant permission to attend Jewish chapel services on the post. What followed was a two hour solo thrash and “sweat party” session of which I was the recipient, in full battle dress uniform, tactical equipment, helmet, and protective mask, doing calisthenics until exhaustion in front of the company area.

The drill sergeant then herded me into his office, practically by the collar, and as soon as the door shut his demeanor changed. He explained to me that upon reading our day 1 “why I joined the Army” biographies, in my platoon were about eight or nine “good ol’ boys” who would give me a blanket party with locks in the pillow cases if I took a post pass to attend religious services that evening, since they weren’t able to share in my privilege.

It was my [constitutional] right to go to worship, but I had to do a risk assessment and see if it was worth a potential ass-beating. I will never forget the cynicism of his answer when I asked why they let people like that enlist. He said: “The free world needs trigger pullers."

How those words ring today.

Now, 23 years later, and after the carnage this weekend on my home soil, I will never again let fear hold me back from celebrating my nationality or my faith, whether I am in uniform or not.

- Brian Ellis, former Army major and Pittsburgh native

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