by Jake Block
In 1981, I was still in the military and openly a Satanist. Everyone in the squadron knew it, and to be truthful, as long as you did your job and kept your mouth shut, just like being gay, no one really cared.
One day, I was working, preparing to move a large number of troops to an undisclosed destination, when my commander came into my office. I immediately came to attention for this man that I had come to respect. He was a no nonsense officer who laid it on the line and expected you to do your job. If you did, you were ok. If not, you had better be prepared for the consequences. It was uncommon for him to just show up during the working day, so after returning my salute, he said, “Go home. Be back at my office in one hour in dress blues and be prepared to brief the Wing Commander. Hit it.
I was out the door and headed to my car. Briefing the Wing Commander usually meant you had really fucked up. But they wouldn’t need you in dress blues for that. Your ass could get chewed just as easily in fatigues. Reporting in dress blues was usually the stuff of awards, medals and honors… OR… you had REALLY fucked up, as in “Thanks for playing, pick up your lovely parting gifts as you leave.” Now, I was GOOD… but having to be honest with myself, I had done very little lately that ventured into the awards and decorations category. Still, I had done nothing that would make me think I was in deep shit, either. So I steadied myself as best I could and in one hour to the minute, I was standing at my commander’s door, knocked twice, and entered.
Inside his office, he and the Wing Commander were sitting at his short conference table. In front of them were several regulation books, note pads and coffee cups… a good sign… when you’re in trouble, they don’t relax enough to drink coffee. Also at the table was the commander’s secretary, Mrs. Livenson who was tough as nails, but well known as a friend to the troops. She gave me a smile as I took three steps toward the table, halted with my right leg tensed and slammed my heels together with a SNAP, while executing my salute. “Tech Sergeant Block, reporting as ordered… SIR!” They returned my salute and had me stand at ease while the secretary read the agenda.
“This meeting has been called to investigate and to find facts into the involvement of TSgt Block in Satanism, the Church of Satan and his long-standing request to be issued military identification tags reflecting The Church of Satan as his religious preference.” She paused. “This is not a matter pertaining to violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and no jeopardy exists. This meeting is to determine if TSgt Block’s involvement falls within the realm of military standard, and if it is compliant with order, discipline and proper military conduct.”
My commander asked, “TSgt Block, do you understand these specifications as explained to you?” I answered crisply, “Sir. Yes, sir!”
Then, standing there, looking at an eagle on my commander’s shoulders and the 4 stars on the Wing Commander’s uniform, the questions came.
“Are you a devil worshipper?” “What’s the difference between devil worship and Satanism?” “Do you approve of drugs?” All fairly simple questions that any Satanist “worth his brimstone” should be able to field off the top of his head. Behind me, I heard a knock at the door and then, to my left, saw the familiar figure of Colonel Langen, the senior base Chaplain. Coming to attention, I saluted him as he took his seat next to the Wing Commander. He said, “A salute for the enemy?” Still holding my salute and awaiting his in return, I said, “I’m sorry to see that a fellow soldier would consider a comrade with a difference in philosophy an enemy.” The returning salute never came, and as he began shuffling in his briefcase for various items, I said, quietly, “I post, sirs, (I return to stand-by).” I noted that my commander smiled as he glanced at an obviously agitated Chaplain, and simply said, “Noted.”
From that point on, for the next four hours, it was pretty much like Jesus being questioned before the Sanhedrin. The Chaplain clearly had an agenda, and that was to make me look like either someone using Satanism to thumb the eye of the military, a druggie using Satanism as a justification for illegalities under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or someone who just didn’t “get it,” and was gullible and manipulable under his trained mastery of Christian doctrine. I’m pleased to say, he failed at all three, and I made him look like a fool on more than one occasion, and while it was a temptation to go for the easy joke and ridicule him, keeping my military bearing and professionalism served me much better.
These three men had the power to destroy my military career, send me someplace where I would just be out of the way, or force me into hiding who I was, “going along to get along.” But it was important to me that I make my stand, to demand the same rights and freedoms that I would ask and defend for others, and symbolically, the issuance of official military dog tags was my way of doing it. Did I care if I would be given some recognition if I was killed in battle? Not particularly… I would be dead. Did I care to be singled out by being awarded the dog tags? No, because I was singled out by NOT being awarded them. It would have been easier and less invasive of my privacy never to have mentioned the matter in the first place. But had I not rolled the dice and taken my chances, I would have remained under control and, even down to the moment of my death in battle, destined to be what someone else wanted me to be, for when I enlisted in 1969, there was no option of “NO religious preference.” If you had none, one was assigned on your dog tags, because the square had to be checked off or the paperwork would be incomplete, and that was simply unacceptable.
So now, many years later, I stood before the panel and stated my case. I stated it professionally and with knowledge of the subject at hand and, after four hours of briefing, questions and answers, I was told. “Thank you for your time. Return to work, and we will advise you of our findings.”
I said, “Thank you, sirs,” executed an about face, left the Commander’s office and went back to mine. I heard nothing for several weeks, and pretty much had put it out of my mind. I had a job to do, and getting that job pretty much took all of my time. So I continued to work, day to day. Then, one day when I was supervising my troops working on a project, a voice from behind said, “Tech Sergeant Block, may I have a word?”
I turned to see Tech Sergeant Riordan form the Central Base Processing Office. He shook my hand and said, “Can we go to your office for a moment?” Certainly, this was a common occurrence. In my mind, he was there to arrange a special movement of personnel somewhere in the system. So we went to my office. I had my admin assistant bring us a cup of coffee and as I settled in behind my desk, I reached for my note pad. TSgt Riordan reached into his pocket and came up with a set of dog tags and said, “I thought you might want to have these. They’re hot off the press.”
I took them with a smile and shook his hand. There, with my name on them were the first dog tags ever issued with Church of Satan as the religious designator. It had taken almost 10 years to accomplish, but with enough effort, even the thickest red tape can eventually be cut. A small victory. A personal victory. And even though it was a victory won, it did not mean that everyone would have to accept me, but it did mean that officially, they could not deny me.
Did it change the way I worked? No. Did it change the way I felt? Somewhat. Did it give me anything I really didn’t have before? No. But sometimes gaining something isn’t the point.