Chris Lieberman, FISM News
With deadlines quickly approaching, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are not yet fully vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving many to wonder how the military will proceed with so many servicemen failing to comply with mandates.
As reported by the Washington Post, 90% of the Navy, 81% of the Army, 81% of the Air Force, and 76.5% of the Marine Corps are currently fully vaccinated. Rates for the Army National Guard and reserves are significantly lower, currently at 38.5% and 40%, respectively.
Each military branch has set its own deadline for vaccination. The Air Force’s Nov. 2 deadline is the earliest and leaves the nearly 60,000 unvaccinated airmen just three weeks to comply. As both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require at least five weeks to achieve full vaccination status, only those who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Oct. 19 will be able to meet the requirements.
Both the Navy and Marine Corps have their deadline set at Nov. 28, while the Army is giving their servicemen until Dec. 15. The National Guard and reserves have a much longer time to get their vaccine, with June 2, 2022 set as their current deadline. This later date is due to the size and geographic distribution of these units, and could account for their lower vaccination rates.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley said, “We expect all unvaccinated soldiers to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. Individual soldiers are required to receive the vaccine when available.”
It is unclear how the military will proceed should large portions of the troops remain unvaccinated once the deadlines hit. The current procedure states that those who refuse will watch a CDC informational video, meet with a medical professional, and then be given time to reconsider. Continued refusal will lead to administrative action against soldiers, including a note on their permanent record saying they refused to follow orders, which could affect their ability to receive promotions.
The process could end in a potential dishonorable discharge for soldiers who still refuse to comply. However, those with pending or granted medical or religious exemptions will not face any consequences.
Several GOP senators had introduced legislation that would prevent soldiers from being dishonorably discharged. President Biden, however, has voiced opposition to this bill saying that it “would detract from readiness and limit a commander’s options for enforcing good order and discipline when a service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination.”
Army Col. Aaron Bohrer, director of the Training Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, told the Kansas City radio program Up to Date that the process “will potentially change as we see what our numbers are of total refusals and as these religious exemption or medical exemption [applications] are processed. The phase II operation may start as soon as 16 December, and that may be a decision point for our senior leadership that says you will start administratively separating soldiers that refuse the vaccine or there may be other ways we go with that.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) previously expressed his concern for the potential loss of service members due to these mandates. He addressed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Twitter, asking, “[A]re you really willing to allow a huge exodus of experienced service members just because they won’t take the vaccine?”
Question for the SECDEF: are you really willing to allow a huge exodus of experienced service members just because they won’t take the vaccine?
Honestly, Americans deserve to know how you plan on dealing with this blow to force readiness – it’s already causing serious problems.
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) September 21, 2021