'God's Basic Training' Web Site Down

A Fort Jackson, S.C.-area minister whose Web site boasted photographs of trainees holding up Bibles and rifles at a "God's Basic Training" Bible study class has taken down the site at the Army's request.

But the policy of having trainees tote weapons with them wherever they go - including chapel - remains in effect, a spokeswoman for Fort Jackson told Military.com.

The photos and the policy have been criticized by some, in part because the images parallel those circulated by radical Islamicist groups depicting fighters holding up Qurans and rifles.

"One picture is worth a thousand words," said Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which first discovered the photos and included them in a lawsuit against the Pentagon that alleges a pro-evangelical Christian bias exists in the military. "The photos show the other side of the al-Qaida and Taliban coin," he said.

The controversial photos were removed from Rev. Frank Bussey's Military Ministry Web site on Dec. 20, the day after Military.com published one of the photos. Sometime later, however, the Army asked Bussey to take down the Web site. Bussey's Fort Jackson ministry, which is affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, conducts the "God's Basic Training" study program.

"An outside, hostile watchdog group is looking for reasons to shut us down, so for now we will not have any pictures of soldiers with their rifles, even though our recruits are required to carry them at all times, including chapel," Bussey said on his Web site before taking it down.

Later, in a message posted on a Web site belonging to his son, Kevin, Bussey said: "In answer to the request of my Fort Jackson Army friends, I have shut down my website to not give the Enemy any more ammunition. The Army did not demand this, just requested it. My wife and I serve them as volunteers. Our military is in an awkward position, having to not step on the 'Politically Correct' land mines set there by aggressive atheistic, political groups."

Fort Jackson officials did not respond to Military.com's Jan. 30 request to confirm whether officials there asked for the site to be taken down, and who made the request.

A spokesman for Christian Crusade Military Ministry, of which the Fort Jackson outreach ministry is part, said the organization also wanted to take the site down, to review it "to make sure everyone was getting the right impression, Christian or non-Christian ... about what we do and how we do it."

"These group pictures [Bussey] takes ... are just loved by the troops, and their parents," said Mike McCandless. "We don't want to necessarily stop that from happening, but we don't want to mislead anybody about what's going on."

He said once the Web site is revised it will be put back up, but it will not include photos of troops with their weapons. While McCandless was familiar with Bussey's use of group photos on his Web site, he said he had never seen any showing recruits with weapons until he read the Military.com story.

Bussey declined to be interviewed by Military.com. But he said in his Web page announcement that when the recruits "first brought them [rifles] to class, they objected but that was the order given to all Fort Jackson Basic Combat Training Battalions."

The battalion policy was imposed to keep recruits in a warfighting mindset, understanding that when they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan they will carry their weapons with them all the time, including to chapel, Maj. Scott Bullock, chaplain for the 2nd Battalion, 39th Basic Combat Training Bn., told Military.com in December.