It hasn't been one of the better years for the Air Force Academy. First it was the sexual abuse scandals. This was followed by evangelical Christians trying to make the cadets in their own God's image.

Most people don't understand it. Here is what I think. The pilots will be flying jet planes and they'll need God on their side.

The first thing a pilot says when he's in trouble and has to bail out of his plane is, "Jesus Christ."

He's not cussing the Son of God, but at that very moment, who else should he call on to make sure his parachute opens?

Most of the holy language at the academy is there for a reason. For example, when a cadet is about to take a test, he prays for God's intervention. If he passes, God is good. If he fails, the cadet knows he either didn't study enough or he might have abused a female cadet.

As long as you remain in the Air Force, "hell" will keep showing up in your lexicon. It usually has to do with the ground crew that takes care of your plane. A pilot might say angrily, "Who the hell forgot to put gas in my plane?"

Pilots depend on God in ticklish situations. "It was so foggy out there that I could only fly by instruments. The Lord saved me."

The evangelicals say if you don't accept Jesus, you will burn in Hell. That's fine for Billy Graham, but it raises some problems for nonbelievers in the Air Force. Suppose the fliers -- and I am not saying they do -- hear voices that tell them to bomb Havana? They could start a war.

The Air Force carries the most powerful weapons in the world, and if the Lord and President Bush tell them to knock out North Korea, they have to do it.

Liberals are always crying about a separation of church and state. But if the academy professors tell their students that the church is more powerful than the state, they have to listen to them.

The Pentagon has been nervous over the publicity about what God's role is in the Air Force. Military chaplains have been fired for raising the question. Non-Christians have been accused of not being team players.

Even the academy football team has to pray to Jesus before a game. The question is, should taxpayers pay the bill? I think they should. For years the Air Force has flown into the "wild blue yonder" without Jesus being designated as the wingman.

Now a cadet will be a better person if he becomes a born-again flier. The Defense Department is studying whether a pilot should be sent to Hades if he doesn't look to Heaven.

The reason the issue is so important is that we live in perilous times. Everyone is one step from purgatory. Who better to save somebody than the Air Force Academy?

I'm not calling for an inquisition. I am not saying that you will meet Satan at 30,000 feet. All I'm saying is that the Air Force needs all the saints it can get. And that's why God is on America's side.

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services