The military services have begun discharging troops who have refused to comply with the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, which could lead to tens of thousands of forces leaving at a time when the military is facing recruiting difficulties.
The military services have all hit their deadlines for active-duty troops to be vaccinated, with the Air Force reaching theirs on November 2, the Navy and Marine Corps on November 28, and the Army on December 15.
Yet there are still tens of thousands of active-duty service members who remain unvaccinated. That number is at least 30,000 — about 3 percent of the roughly 1.3 million active-duty force, according to the Associated Press.
As of December 15, there have been 80 service member deaths due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Department of Defense statistics.
The Air Force has so far discharged 27 active-duty airmen, but there are nearly 18,000 more airmen unvaccinated, according to Air Force data as of December 13.
According to the Air Force, 7,139 active-duty airmen are unvaccinated: 1,358 who have “not started,” 1,039 who “refused,” and 4,742 who have religious exemption requests in progress. So far, no religious exemption requests have been approved.
And there are 10,616 more Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members who are unvaccinated: 2,331 who have not started, 2,261 who have “refused,” and 6,024 who have religious exemption requests in progress. The Air Force’s deadline for reservists was December 2.
There are an additional 4,310 active-duty, guard, and reserve members who are not vaccinated but have received medical or administrative exemptions. No religious exemption requests have been approved.
The Marine Corps said Thursday it has discharged 103 Marines so far refusing the vaccine, as of December 15.
The service did not specify exact numbers of those still unvaccinated, but it could be as many as 15,000. The service said five percent of active-duty Marines remain unvaccinated and 16 percent of Marine reservists are currently unvaccinated. The deadline for Marine reservists is December 28.
The Marine Corps has approved only 1,007 exemptions as of December 15. There have been 3,144 requests for religious accommodation, with 2,863 have been processed, but zero approved.
The Army said Friday it has so far relieved six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 2,767 general officer written reprimands to soldiers who have not taken the vaccine. The service said separations would begin next month.
The Army said 96 percent of its active-duty members are fully-vaccinated with less than one percent refusal rate comprising 3,864 active-duty soldiers. If members of the Army Reserve and National Guard are counted, 17 percent of the total Army force remain unvaccinated, but the deadline for reservists and National Guard members is June 30, 2022. The Army said:
Currently, Soldiers who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request may be subject to adverse administrative action. Beginning in January, Army commanders will initiate involuntary separation for the less than one percent of active component Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption.
The Army said it is still processing thousands of exemption requests but has so far approved 6,263 temporary medical or administrative exemptions, and four permanent medical exemptions. The Army has received 1,746 religious accommodation requests, with 85 disapproved, and 1,661 being reviewed.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said:
Vaccinating our Soldiers against COVID-19 is first and foremost about Army readiness. To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine. If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.
The Army said starting this month, West Point and U.S. Army Senior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) who are not fully vaccinated or have an exemption cannot be commissioned as officers and will be placed in a leave of absence status.
The Navy has fired the executive officer of the USS Winston Churchill for allegedly refusing to be tested for the coronavirus while pursuing an exemption.
And while the service said it has a 98.4 percent full-vaccination rate, 5,472 active-duty sailors remain unvaccinated. The deadline for Navy reservists is December 28.
The service recently released its guidance to commanders on separating unvaccinated sailors.
The service said 519 active-duty sailors have received permanent or temporary medical exemptions, or administrative exemptions. There were 2,751 religious exemption requests, but zero were approved.
The Navy said in its last news release: “In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, U.S. Navy policy is to process for separation all Navy service members who refuse the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and do not have an approved exemption.”
The Department of Defense has downplayed the number of troops who could be separated over the vaccine mandate.
“No one’s minimizing the potential loss here, but I do think it’s important to keep it into perspective,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Thursday, adding:
In the Army’s case it’s, you know, less than one percent of the force. And the Air Force, when they put out their initial numbers the other day, noted that, yes, 27 were initially being processed for administrative discharge, but 1,800 had been administratively-discharged throughout the year of 2021 for any number of other reasons.
So we don’t want to see anybody administratively-discharged for not taking a vaccine because we want to see them take the vaccine, because it’s a valid military medical requirement, and it makes them safer. It makes their units safer. It is, as the secretary said, a very real readiness issue.
The Pentagon has also said making the booster shot mandatory is “under active discussion,” as reported by Breitbart News last week.
The purge of unvaccinated forces comes amid recruiting challenges for the military.
The U.S. military has 1.3 million active-duty service members, and has to find more than 150,000 new recruits every year, but meeting that goal has been difficult in the past several years.
The Army — the largest military branch — failed to meet its recruiting goal in 2018, and its recruiting goal for 2020 of 61,200 new enlistees was 20 percent lower, according to Bloomberg.
Making the task more difficult is the shrinking supply of eligible Americans and shrinking propensity of young Americans to serve. According to Bloomberg:
This limited supply compromises national security. In recent years, the Army has only just barely met the Pentagon’s minimum cognitive-aptitude benchmark for new personnel. What’s more, recruits tend to be drawn from a shrinking segment of the population – from a small number of mostly southern states and families of veterans, a group whose share of the population is lower than at any time since World War II. The armed forces continue to enjoy public support, but this skewing of the recruiting pool risks widening the divide between service members and the citizens they’re sworn to defend.
A recent Reagan Institute National Defense Survey found an 11 percent drop in the number of Americans who have a great deal of confidence in the military just since February.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) in October expressed his concern over the vaccine mandate’s effect on future recruiting in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“With an ever shrinking candidate pool, hastily executed policies such as this work to further diminish the ability of the Department to tap into the finite resource of people critical to national security,” he said.
“The mass attrition of personnel and further shirking of the defense industrial base at this time would only serve to hinder our ability to project power and compete against near-peer adversaries.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Jim Carafano tweeted: “Does not make sense as a public health measure. Doesn’t make sense from a readiness, recruiting retention or military discipline stand point so why exactly is this being done?”
Does not make sense as a public health measure. Doesn’t make sense from a readiness, recruiting retention or military discipline stand point so why exactly is this being done? https://t.co/f43wgB9ooc
— James Jay Carafano (@JJCarafano) December 17, 2021
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