U.S. service members unknowingly killed insurgents with Bible verses for years

A rifleman with Bravo Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, uses his ACOG scope to look across the Euphrates River during a foot patrol in search of weapons and improvised explosive devices near Hit, Iraq, Dec. 28, 2005.

If you’ve spent any time with your boots on the ground in recent years, it’s quite likely that you know what an ACOG is.

Known as the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, the venerable 4×32 fixed-power optic is an easily-recognized tritium-powered icon of the Global War on Terror, slapped onto the rifles of many a door-kicker and known for being able to withstand levels of punishment and abuse that only a Private can deliver.

Originally designed for use on the M16 and M4 series of rifles and carbines, the ACOG was -and still is- designed and made exclusively by the Michigan-based Trijicon company since 1987.

To give you an idea into how little attention the military procurement groups pay to the fine details of the things they buy, a certain secret message went seemingly unnoticed for decades, stamped on the sides of every ACOG- a Bible verse.

Since the introduction of the first ACOG, the scopes had the verse slipped in after the model, which would often read out as “ACOG4x32JN8:12.” This of course referenced the first book of John, Chapter 8, Verse 12, which reads:

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”

To anyone not familiar with the ACOG, the radioactive tritium-based phosphor inside the optic allows the reticle to glow, even in pitch-black darkness. Needless to say, the verse is both a nod to the scope’s illumination abilities and the deep personal faith of Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon, who died in a 2003 plane crash.

Other optics bore 1 John 1:7, which reads:

“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Honestly, the secret references to light and conquering darkness are pretty bad-ass, no matter what faith you practice.

However, not everyone felt that way. In 2010, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein -the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who is often derided by media and military personnel as an activist “waging a War on Christianity” through trivial lawsuits- allegedly discovered the verses and took the story to ABC News, who immediately posted an article titled “U.S. Military Weapons Inscribed With Secret ‘Jesus’ Bible Codes.”

At the time, Trijicon’s then-director of Sales and Marketing, Tom Munson, said the practice of including references on company optics has been a tradition -in no short part by the late Bindon- since 1981.

Then-spokesman for the United States Central Command, USAF Major John Redfield, said that the sights did not violate any sort of proselytizing guidelines, much in the way of the most-traded item in the world is inscribed with “In God We Trust.”

“This situation is not unlike the situation with U.S. currency”, Redfield said at the time. “Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used”.

Weinstein argued that thousands of soldiers “thought it was a sick and very scary joke.” He said it allows the Islamic enemies of the United States to argue that they are being shot by “Jesus rifles.”

Across the pond, the issue was naturally taken with more seriousness by the more politically-correct British Ministry of Defence, who claimed they were not aware of the inscriptions when they bought ACOGs. Further out in New Zealand, representatives of the New Zealand Defence Force ultimately deemed the inscriptions “inappropriate,” but were only left to shrug on the matter- the New Zealand SAS loved the optics, and nobody was going to dare take them away from the toughest Kiwis around.

However, all things must eventually come to an end. Mere days after the original ABC story broke, Trijicon announced that the Biblical references would no longer be on products intended for government use and provided a “modification kit” (which we presume was a Dremel tool?) to remove the engravings.

That said, you can still find them in circulation among units and optics sold commercially still bear the inscriptions.

From the venerable ACOG to the RMR red dot and other optics, there is a different verse for each model. So next time you take your rifle out -be it from the arms room or your own closet- and give it a good cleaning, take a quick look and see what verse is on your optic. Give it a good look-over and appreciate a secret that went completely unnoticed by many for well over twenty years.

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