TERRE HAUTE —
Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, head of the Indiana National Guard, received some unkind criticism last week that threatened to tarnish the brass on his distinguished 43 years of military service.
Umbarger attracted the ire of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which railed about a brief video statement Umbarger did for a faith-based group called Centurion’s Watch. That group, started by an Army Reserves chaplain, Doug Hedrick, has as its stated purpose using “practical, thought provoking biblically based education and support to transform America’s Reserve and Guard families into strong, healthy and ready military families.”
Why is that important? Because, as Hedrick notes on the group’s website (www.centurionswatch.org), “some 200,000 military marriages have crashed and burned” in the last eight years of wars involving U.S. troops. Divorce rates have risen 40 percent within military families in the last decade, Hedrick said.
That is undoubtedly what drove Umbarger to make the video.
The group protesting Umbarger’s endorsement makes it sound like a sermon from the pulpit, an attempt to proselytize, even an effort to intimidate Guard members to join the cause because the man with stars on his shoulders orders them to do so.
Because Umbarger asked that his video be taken down from the website, neither you nor we can watch it and judge for ourselves. We can, however, see a video featuring Hedrick on that site. It is a low-key appeal to help service men and women; no fire and brimstone.
We do have Umbarger’s words from the video, thanks to The Indianapolis Star, which published them. Among these 88 words, Umbarger said that Centurion’s Watch wants “to keep families together with the stresses and strains of being apart, being in harm’s way, risking their lives for this, for this country. I can’t think of a better organization [than Centurion’s Watch] that you can support.” His only reference to religion was to call Centurion’s Watch “faith-based.”
The group that is complaining says that violates military rules and the First Amendment, which, when extrapolated, calls for separation of church and state, in this case the military. We don’t know about military rules, but we take a back seat to no one in our defense of the First Amendment. Umbarger’s heartfelt statement, based on a neutral reading, does no damage to the First Amendment.
Should Umbarger have made the video while in military uniform? No.
Should he have made the video at all and risk having his motivation misinterpreted? Perhaps not.
Should Umbarger be stripped of his command and be court-martialed, as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has called for? Absolutely not. His removal and punishment would be a ludicrous result for a respected officer’s attempt to help the troops he commands with a rising family problem that should concern us all.