Military quietly rolls back COVID vaccine restrictions on active duty troops

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In an unusual attempt to casually change course, some branches of the military are reversing some of their previous COVID-19 vaccine restrictions and penalties.

There have also been some exciting developments in the courts for service workers who have fought what they believe are unfair practices and punishment for their religious vaccine exemption requests.

With low recruitment levels and mounting tensions worldwide, this subtle shift in the COVID vaccine tide for our men and women in uniform could be welcome news for national security. So let’s take a look at what the military departments have been up to.

To the shores of Tripoli

First up: the United States Marine Corps. A branch I’m personally quite fond of, these men and women take battle against the enemy literally from the land, air AND sea, proving their versatility and lethality, battle after fighter over the years.

The Marines have reversed a number of sentences linked to those devil dogs who have applied for a religious exemption from the COVID vaccination. These penalties include involuntary terminations and delays in promotions.

For those unfamiliar with the term “involuntary termination,” discharge or expulsion from the military is despite that member’s desire to continue serving.

This change of mind at the Marine Corps comes after advice from a Florida federal court in the US came out stating:

“The Marine Corps will not enforce any order to accept COVID-19 vaccination, administratively segregate or retaliate against Marines in the classroom for exercising legal rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”

It seems odd that this guidance even had to come, because I’ve always felt it was common knowledge that the federal government could not punish or, as the RFRA puts it, “substantially tax a person’s practice of religion”.

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Anchors Aweigh

The Marine Corps generally acts in line with whatever the United States Navy does, so it’s probably not surprising that it rolled back its sentences shortly after the Navy did the same. The Navy caused a stir when 35 SEALs filed a lawsuit over their treatment after applying for religious waivers for the COVID vaccine.

I’ve had the distinct honor of serving and deploying with Navy SEALs, and I have to tell you, there aren’t many other groups of bad mama jamas you’d rather fight with than this bubbas. This could of course be my opinion, but you always prefer more SEALs than less.

The lawsuit inevitably involved other sailors who had faced the same restrictions and penalties after filing waivers, including sailors transferred to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower while their waivers were being reviewed. However, what caught the attention of lawmakers and likely helped reverse sentences were reports of substandard life on USS “Ike”.

Complaints about sewage toilets and worms living and thriving in the standing water rightly outraged members of Congress, including Oklahoma Senator James Lankford. Senator Lankford wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for answers, stating:

“At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of concern for the service personnel you lead. At worst, it shows active contempt and hostility toward them.”

Indeed.

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Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Many of you know that my heart is with the Air Force. Aiming high for twenty years will do that to you. I had already reported in June about a lawsuit involving Air Force members who had applied for exemption from religion.

Another victory was announced for military members who came into this lawsuit as a federal appeals court denied the Air Force’s attempt to overturn pilot protections. The magistrate wrote:

“The plaintiffs have argued during this trial that even the handful of waivers approved by the United States Air Force Department were only granted to service personnel nearing the end of their term of service and thus still eligible for an administrative waiver.”

Essentially, the argument is that the only exemptions the Air Force has given are for those who qualified for exemptions other than religious, because of upcoming retirements and divorces. That certainly seems very sad to me.

RELATED: Air Force members file lawsuit after being denied religious exemption from COVID vaccine

Don’t color me surprised

Perhaps the most interesting hidden nugget in the news feeds lately is that the Pentagon has discovered that it is possible that the military has not applied religious exemptions to the standards. Don’t you say?

The office of the Pentagon’s inspector general said there is a “possible non-compliance” with the standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions. In a letter from Acting Pentagon Inspector General Sean O’Donnell to the Secretary of Defense, he says he found the following:

“…with regard to denial of religious freedom accommodation requests due to COVID-19 vaccination requirements.”

The only service that, as far as I can see, has not reversed anything or won lawsuits, is the military. In fact, in July, it was discovered that the military had issued orders restricting the official travel of unvaccinated soldiers without prior approval from none other than Army Deputy Secretary, Gabe Camarillo.

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These orders include those soldiers with approved religious exemptions. Anyone who hasn’t done this may see this as inconsistent, but it isn’t.

Essentially, forcing soldiers to get approval from one of the highest-ranking members of the U.S. military to travel puts an ultimatum gauntlet on the soldier: Get the vaccine or don’t get a promotion. Traveling on official orders allows soldiers to engage, undergo mandatory training, and do other activities that all contribute to promotions.

It seems that there is some real religious discrimination within the military establishment. So maybe they should get down on their knees and investigate this phenomenon on a cleverly appointed day.

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Perspective

The argument behind COVID vaccine mandates in the military surrounds preparedness. If you are not protected from a disease, you are essentially endangering your fellow brothers and sisters and being a risk.

In general I get it. However, the ability to file religious waivers for vaccines is not new to the military. If the services don’t use the same procedures to review and approve as any other vaccine, we’ve got a problem.

We shouldn’t be surprised that we have a recruitment problem if we don’t defend the rights of the men and women who raise their right hands to swear to protect and defend us.

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