I wonder why no mainstream media outlet has bothered to look into what’s happening among U.S. military members regarding the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Even though OSHA put a pause on pushing Biden’s proposed mandate for U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, We’ve heard very little or nothing at all about the Pentagon’s position going forward. Apparently, even actions taken by military members in response to the word that religious and medical exceptions from all military members would be considered, not a single exception has been accepted by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
How deadly could this situation be if we indeed lose even a few thousand members of our military? We now have approximately 300,000 active members in our armed forces. What might happen if we lost just several thousand active military personnel over this? Let’s take a look at a few examples of the issues caused by the U.S. Military mandate.
In late October, Phil Teuscher’s supervisor showed up at his office at the Navy’s top weapons testing base to let him know his name was on a list of thousands of base personnel who had failed to acknowledge receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
In August, all branches of the U.S. military gave its service members and civilian employees an ultimatum: Get the vaccine or face being fired. At the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California, the remote base where Teuscher has worked for 20 years, the first part of the mandate required all personnel to officially acknowledge receipt of the directive. The next step was a signed statement saying whether they had received a shot.
But Teuscher, 58, and many others who work for the Navy on and around the base have refused to comply with either directive. Using an online messaging app, Teuscher started connecting with other like-minded China Lake workers, pushing against the requirement. The group quickly grew to more than 300 participants, all deeply concerned about receiving the vaccine or outright refusing it. Each day at lunchtime, dozens of workers gather outside the base to protest the mandate.
Some employees connected to the base, all of whom require security clearances to work there, are pointing to underlying health problems they believe the vaccine could exacerbate, while others cite religious exemptions. Teuscher, a production manager for a highly sophisticated missile program at the base’s Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, or NAWCWD, is not making either claim. Instead, he’s choosing to fight the legality of the mandate on principle.
“My situation is a little bit different. I could retire, but I’m choosing not to,” he said. “I’ve got my 20 years in. … I’m choosing to fight it.”
Other vaccine holdouts aren’t so fortunate and would be forced to find non-military work if they continue to buck the requirement. But the Navy faces its own dilemma as the deadlines loom. With roughly 10% of the base’s highly educated and trained personnel refusing the shot, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain all the classified weapons and their testing operations in top working order if all resisters are fired.
The Navy itself touts its NAWCWD employees operating at China Lake and Naval Air Station Point Mugu in Ventura County as “some of the brightest minds in the world” conducting work in “high-tech areas including battlespace integration, airborne electronic attack, aircraft survivability, counter-improvised explosive devices, directed energy, robotics … and more.” China Lake, the Navy’s largest single landholding at 1.1 million acres, is also home to the air test and evaluation squadron for the Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet, as well as numerous other aircraft and helicopters, all requiring a highly specialized trained workforce to maintain them.
“We still have a job to do, and we’re trying to stay focused on it,” another China Lake civilian employee told RCP. “But the number of people that we’re hearing possibly not going through [with the vaccine] and ultimately facing separation from the service will inevitably affect our ability to complete our mission and support the warfighter.”
So far, roughly 40% of the base’s estimated 3,000 employees (those working for the Navy on base or nearby) are vaccinated, according to estimates circulating throughout the base. Those numbers are likely to rise as vaccination deadlines draw closer in the coming weeks, but they still could cause serious readiness problems for the Navy and its weapons systems. Active-duty sailors and Marines must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28, while those in the select reserve have until Dec. 28. The Pentagon requires federal civilian employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 22.
The high number of civilian and military workers refusing to get the vaccine at China Lake and other key research and development bases could force the Navy to make some difficult decisions in the coming months. All civilian workers must hold security clearance to enter the base. Many hold advanced engineering degrees and extensive technical training that takes years to acquire.
Recruiting and replacing such workers won’t be instant or easy – especially at China Lake. Located in California’s remote Mojave Desert, it’s some 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles. In recent years, the base has experienced serious attrition problems as engineers and other highly skilled workers flee for more lucrative jobs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, according to several sources familiar with the employment challenges.
“It just blows my mind that they are willing to lose people that already made the essential career and life decision to move to China Lake,” one civilian DoD employee remarked, adding that the nearby Walmart Supercenter is the biggest sign of civilization in the area.
The quandary the military faces isn’t limited to China Lake. At the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona, California, at least 100 employees out of roughly 2,000 total are participating in an online messaging group resisting the vaccine, which just got up and running two weeks ago.
For instance, Nick Goldberg, a 36-year-old mechanical engineer at the base who refuses to receive the shot on principle, holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and numerous certifications related to his job designing and building inspection equipment for weapons systems. Goldberg has worked at the center for 13 years, along the way earning patents on behalf of the U.S. government for several cutting-edge technologies.
“We’re all scrambling to make sense of the rules and deadlines, which keep changing,” Goldberg, who organized a protest outside the base last week, said in an interview. “The DoD thinks they can just let all these people go, and it will be no big deal because they’ve got managers telling them they get 60 to 70 resumes a week on their desk. Well, you can’t just replace that kind of knowledge easily.”
A Navy spokesman declined to comment about the readiness challenges that would inevitably be created by firing hundreds of workers at military R&D installations.
“We aren’t going to get ahead of the deadlines and speculate to possible outcomes,” Lt. Cmdr. Andrew DeGarmo told RCP in an email.
Where’s The Navy In All This VAX-Uncertainty?
So far, the Navy has tried to focus on those complying with the vaccine order. Last week, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said during a panel at the Aspen Security Forum that the service branch has a 99.4% vaccination rate for active-duty personnel. That number does not account for the civilian and military workforce at China Lake and other Naval R&D facilities.
Some of the China Lake workers claiming religious exemptions are working with the First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that champions religious freedom. On Tuesday, it filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of at least 35 Navy SEALs, claiming that the U.S. military is infringing on their First Amendment freedoms and intimidating them into getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Some SEALs and fighter pilots, most of whom are young and in top physical shape, are concerned about the risk of myocarditis, a very rare but potentially fatal inflammation of heart muscles that studies show younger males have experienced after receiving the vaccine. The different branches of the military all have their own vaccination deadlines. Nearly two months after the Pentagon began requiring troops to get the vaccine, the vast majority have done so, though top officials have denied nearly all religious exemptions.
Last week, the Air Force missed its Nov. 2 deadline to vaccinate all of its active-duty airmen because officials were still sorting through thousands of requests for exemptions. An estimated 12,000 Air Force personnel rejected orders to get fully vaccinated despite the Pentagon mandate. Service officials received nearly 5,000 requests for religious exemptions but have granted none of them, Defense One reported. They approved 1,886 waivers for medical reasons.
Vaccine holdouts in the military face rank reductions and, ultimately, separation from their service branches, along with potential courts-martial and dishonorable discharges for failing to follow orders under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Both military and civilian vaccine protesters would also likely lose their security clearances, which would harm their ability to attain future national security-related employment.
“Because a clearance is a privilege, not a right legally, [the military] can condition it on whatever they want to,” said Sean Bigley, a lawyer who specializes in security clearance retaliation cases. “The issue as it pertains to vaccines hasn’t really been tested, but I always tell my clients, you don’t want to be the test case unless you’re willing to jeopardize your career over this.”
Most vaccine resisters will have more time before it comes to that. Last week, a Washington, D.C., District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring both civilian and active-duty military plaintiffs from being terminated after they sued the Biden administration over religious exemptions to the vaccines. Administration officials in late October also signaled that the vaccine deadlines would serve as the beginning of an education process focused on persuading those who are protesting the vaccine to reverse course.
“There will be an escalation in disciplinary actions that will go through a process,” Steven Morani, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for sustainment, told a House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee hearing in late October. “Nobody is going to be fired on the 22nd. Education is critical in this space — to educate people about the safety of it and the risk of not having it.”
Jeff Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, signaled an even softer sell before the federal government or the Pentagon would order the firing of thousands of civilians, contractors, and troops.
“But even once we hit those deadlines, we expect federal agencies and contractors will follow their standard HR processes and that, for any of the probably relatively small percent of employees that are not in compliance, they’ll go through education, counseling, accommodations, and then enforcement,” Zients said at a White House media briefing in late October. “So, these processes play out across weeks, not days. And so, to be clear, we’re creating flexibility within the system. We’re offering people multiple opportunities to get vaccinated. There is not a cliff here.”
Legal experts representing SEALs and other defense clients say the military is unlikely to approve the religious exemption requests unless forced to. Vaccine advocates cite a long history of the U.S. government requiring vaccine mandates dating back to when George Washington required his soldiers to be inoculated against smallpox during the Revolutionary War. But mandates have also long been controversial, and the U.S. has a history of heavy-handed enforcement. In the 1890s and 1900s, squads of policemen would enter people’s homes in the middle of the night to inject them with smallpox vaccines.
In the Navy especially, where thousands of sailors spend months at a time in ships’ extremely close quarters, COVID has proved a big challenge. The growing coronavirus crisis aboard an aircraft carrier in the early months of the pandemic last year prompted its captain, Brett Crozier, to plea for help in a letter that went public, leading to his firing. But a new study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal found that those who have received the vaccine can spread the delta variant just as easily as unvaccinated individuals, leading to arguments that the shot only mitigates the impact of infection but does not reduce spread.
Legal Advocates Supporting Military Vaccine Resisters
Those supporting vaccine resisters argue the military is flouting constitutional protections that expressly protect religious exemptions.
“The government has a very, very high bar that it has to meet to deny a religious accommodation,” Mike Berry, a Marine reservist and attorney for the First Liberty Institute, recently told Fox News. “But we’ve been told from the Pentagon, from the very highest levels, that the DoD does not intend to approve any religious accommodation requests. And to my knowledge, and I’ve heard this from multiple sources, not a single religious accommodation has been approved at this point. And that’s insane. That can’t be the case, but yet that’s where we are.”
Right now, the two sides are locked in a game of chicken as the vaccination deadlines and penalties shift and appear to soften. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a law professor and expert on vaccine mandates at the University of California, San Francisco, said the Biden administration’s conflicting messages on whether and when federal workers, military contractors, and troops will be terminated is only prolonging the inevitable. Ultimately, she said, the vaccine holdouts shouldn’t count on the courts to widely back their resistance. However, she predicted they could require the Pentagon to provide more transparency about their religious-exemption denials.
“In my experience, there are a lot fewer people willing to resign when it comes down to the real deadline,” she said. “When it comes down to allowing the military to set its vaccine policy, I don’t see the courts second-guessing them.”
President Biden’s vaccine mandate for private businesses with more than 100 workers is on hold while it faces legal challenges. A federal appeals court in Louisiana temporarily blocked the rule, saying it raises “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” Conversely, in late October, the Supreme Court upheld Maine’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.
Congressional Members Weigh-In On Military Mandate
With the legality of the mandates up in the air, Republicans in Congress are trying to limit punishments the Pentagon can impose. Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall proposed an amendment to the pending 2022 National Defense Authorization Act to allow service members who refuse the COVID vaccine to receive an honorable discharge. Ten additional GOP senators have since backed the provision, including Kevin Cramer, Ted Cruz, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, James Lankford, Shelley Moore-Capito, Rick Scott, Tommy Tuberville, and Roger Wicker.
“Think about the consequences for a dishonorable discharge,” Marshall said, ticking off a list of several, including the loss of medical and education benefits, gun-ownership rights, and the ability to reenlist in a different military branch. “This is a big issue. It is a big deal.”
Lawmakers have yet to address the issue of Department of Defense civilian employees and those in the military losing their security clearances if they continue to refuse the vaccine. They may not have to if the Pentagon determines it can’t risk firing so many highly skilled civilian employees and military at key weapons bases.
Thousands of civilian defense workers, as well as others in the military, who are refusing to get the shot are worried they could be forced out of their jobs by Christmas after receiving a notice that suspensions will begin Nov. 22.
“Well, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ and ‘Merry Christmas,’” Goldberg remarked. “We’ve made careers out of this work. Some people are going on more than 30 years of experience. We’re all patriots. We believe the United States is the best country and has the best military in the world. We take a lot of pride in being a part of that. To say at this point, after decades of service, if you don’t get this … drug injected into you, you can take a walk. It’s just astounding after everything we’ve done.”
We daily see and hear new ironies about EVERY issue implemented by the Biden Administration that is rolled out on a “demand” basis. Honestly, the unmitigated gall of our government officials to bark orders to the American people about critically personal issues is shocking. It’s as if there is NO government hesitancy to attempt to force their political policies on all of America, many times there literally thumbing their noses at us. At the same time, they rip the Constitution to shreds!
It’s not just in the Navy or just in the U.S. Military: it’s across every segment of U.S. society. This “new” process of egregious top-down governing has flabbergasted tens of millions of Americans who thought there would never be such policies even attempted in this way. And when the Biden Administration members get pushback, they ignore the substance of what Americans think. They say by making hollow excuses, blaming things on the pandemic, supply chain blockages, and even Donald Trump! That shouldn’t be a surprise: following every GOP administration, Democrats ALWAYS blame Republicans for everything bad when they take charge of the government.
In closing, here is what is shocking to most Americans: from the President on down in his Administration, NO ONE seems to be willing even to discuss openly the striking policies being thrust on Americans. Vaccines are merely a small piece of this puzzle.
Question: Do you think the American people are simply going to stand on the sidelines and watch some totalitarian government appear through the Biden Administration? That’s actually a thought worth pondering. Sadly, this would even need to be considered.
But there IS something certain in our nation today: Democrats are hell-bent on taking control of everyday life from top to bottom away from the American people and doing that with “permanent” status.
Wanna be really scared? Who is there who can stop these moves by the Biden folks even if they want to?