Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley downplayed the effect of kicking out troops from the military for not complying with the Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate, even amid threats from China and Russia and recruiting difficulties in the Army.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), a Navy reservist, asked Milley Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing if it was worth sacrificing troops over vaccine mandates.
“Would you rather have a few extra battalions of unvaccinated soldiers, or not have them at all because of this?” Banks asked Milley.
“The numbers are very low, by the way, of those that are refusing to be vaccinated, and they’re even lower. I mean, it’s tiny the numbers that are actually being asked to process out. So I think it’s manageable, and I think that I would prefer that everybody just go ahead and get vaccinated,” Milley said.
So far, about 2,000 troops have been kicked out, but the numbers may reach thousands more.
Banks noted that the Army National Guard missed its recent recruiting goal by 8,000 and that the Army is now planning to dramatically lower its personnel size because of recruiting challenges.
Milley said the recruiting difficulties were a mixture of a lack of eligible recruits and the desire to save money.
Banks then noted the Army is offering new recruits as much as $50,000 in signing bonuses as it kicks out soldiers.
“How much additional costs are we going to incur because of the increased recruiting bonuses to combat projected losses for unvaccinated military personnel?” Banks asked.
Milley said he would have to get back to him on a cost analysis but emphasized that the number of troops getting kicked out is “very, very small” in the Army.
Banks noted it is projected that 2,692 soldiers — the size of a couple of Army battalions — have not taken the vaccine and will likely be kicked out of the Army.
“Once again, how is this loss of personnel going to hurt the overall end strength of the Army?” he asked Milley.
Milley then said if all of those troops are kicked out, “I think that would hurt,” but he indicated some could be convinced to take the vaccine.
“I think there’s an issue of education here and persuasion, and making sure that these soldiers are making informed decisions,” he said.
Banks noted six Army leaders have been relieved over the vaccine mandate, and the Army has issued 3,182 general officer written reprimands to active duty soldiers over the mandate.
“How has this loss of leadership and focus on administrative burdens improved Army warfighting readiness and enhanced combat power?” he asked.
Milley said he regretted that commanders were being relieved but said, “We are an institution that has a sole set of requirements, in terms of the health of the force and shots and et cetera. And there’s a policy, and our job is to enforce the policy.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said despite the low average number of daily infections — less than 0.0001 percent of the total U.S. population — the vaccine mandate requirement will remain.
“We’ve seen variants of this — this virus, you know, wane and then grow again. And so this is a medical readiness requirement, and it will remain so,” he said.