USAF BUDDHIST CHAPLAIN BADGE

The badge worn by Buddhist Chaplains in the United States Air Force features a representation of the dharmachakra, an eight-spoked wheel that, among other things, evokes the concept of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Although the history of Buddhists serving the United States Armed Forces dates back to World War II, the idea of creating a specialized insignia for Buddhist Chaplains only emerged in 1990, with the Armed Forces Chaplains Board announcing its desires that a Buddhist Chaplain be appointed to address the religious needs of soldiers not of the Judeo-Christian faiths. The task of designing an insignia was given to the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, and in August of that year they unveiled the dharmachakra, a design used by Buddhist Chaplains across all branches of the military.

But the hard truth is that, because of its emphasis on nonviolence and proscriptions against the taking of life, there are only a miniscule of Armed Forces service members who self-identify as Buddhists: a report cited in a 2009 NPR news story placed their numbers at just under four-tenths of one percent.

For the tiny number of Buddhists serving in the U.S. military, however, the USAF is home to the only Buddhist worship space. The Buddhist Chapel, or Vast Refuge Dharma Hall, is a 300-square-foot space constructed inside the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Crafted with several types of wood used for building temples in Japan, the centerpiece of the chapel is a Buddha figure on an altar, which also is designed in a that expresses appreciation for the four elements associated with life: earth, wind, fire, and water. The temple’s construction costs were paid for by the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism.

The Buddhist Chaplain badge is issued in a single degree. Like all Chaplains but more fittingly in their cases, Buddhist Chaplains are non-combatant (and non-command) officers. To be considered for service as a Buddhist Chaplain in the USAF Chaplain Corps, candidates must be endorsed by the Buddhist Churches of America in addition to holding a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited school.
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