(Headline USA) All of the U.S. military services have now begun disciplinary actions and discharges for troops who have refused to get the mandated coronavirus vaccine, officials said Thursday, with as many as 20,000 unvaccinated forces at risk of being removed from service.
The troops serving, fighting and dying to protect our freedom and liberty, in other words, are now under threat of disciplinary action or discharge for not complying with an authoritarian dictum that has repeatedly been declared unconstitutional in varying circumstances by multiple courts.
The Marine Corps said it has discharged 103 Marines so far for refusing the vaccine, and the Army said it has reprimanded more than 2,700 soldiers and will begin discharge proceedings in January. The Air Force said earlier this week that 27 airmen had been discharged for refusing the vaccine order. And the Navy laid out its new discipline procedure this week, and has already fired one sailor from his command job for refusing to be tested while he pursues an exemption.
Military leaders have warned for months that troops would face consequences if they did not follow what is considered to be a lawful order to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But only in the last week or so have they publicly begun following through on those threats.
It’s not clear how many could end up being discharged. But according to the services, at least 30,000 service members are not yet vaccinated, but several thousand of those have gotten temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions approved. Of the remaining — which is likely 20,000 or more — thousands are working their way through the exemptions process or have flatly refused. That’s about 1.5% of the roughly 1.3 million active duty troops.
The figures reflect a calculated risk — that the number of troops who would be forced from service for refusing the vaccine posed less of a threat to military readiness than the prospect of the virus running rampant among unvaccinated troops.
More than 12,000 have sought religious exemptions. And about 4,800 Army soldiers and Air Force airmen have flatly refused the vaccine, without seeking an exemption. The Navy and Marine Corps have not released their refusal totals.
Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin‘s main concern is getting as many service members vaccinated as possible.
“What he would tell these individuals if he had the chance to speak to them directly is to get the vaccine, if they are medically eligible,” said Kirby. “Get the vaccine because it’s the best way to protect themselves and their units. That’s the readiness concern — getting the vaccination rate as close to 100% as possible.”
Asked about the impact on military readiness if service members continue to refuse the shots and are discharged from the service, Kirby said troops still have time to do the right thing.
“We obviously hope that they will,” he said. “But if they don’t, it is a lawful order and it has to be obeyed because it is a valid medical requirement.”
While each service has developed its own process, all are following existing rules for when a service member disobeys a lawful order. Getting thrown out of the military for refusing a vaccine has been done very rarely. But service members are routinely discharged for disobeying orders — often getting an honorable discharge or general discharge with honorable conditions.
Members of the U.S. military are already required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are deployed, including for smallpox, hepatitis, polio and the flu.
The Pentagon this year made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve. Austin has said repeatedly that getting the vaccine is critical to maintaining a heathy, ready force that can be prepared to defend the nation. The Pentagon is also weighing making the vaccine booster shots mandatory for service members.
Oklahoma’s Republican governor and the state attorney general have already filed a federal lawsuit challenging the military mandate for the state’s Guard. Gov. Kevin Stitt—the first state leader to publicly challenge the mandate—has argued that Austin is overstepping his constitutional authority.
Stitt had asked Austin to suspend the mandate for the Oklahoma National Guard and directed his new adjutant general to assure members that they would not be punished for not being vaccinated.
Austin rejected the request and said unvaccinated Guard members would be barred from federally funded drills and training required to maintain their Guard status.
And on Thursday, Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told Austin that the state will not direct its National Guard members to comply with the Biden administration’s order requiring all members of the military to get vaccinated for COVID-19, as opposition to the mandate grows.
“If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the State of Texas,” Abbott said, “they will have only President Biden and his administration to blame.”
In addition to the more than 2,700 Army soldiers who received written reprimands for refusing the shot, six were fired from leadership positions. Students at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who refuse the vaccine and do not get an approved exemption will not be commissioned as officers.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press