Even as the Army struggles to fill its ranks during the most severe military recruiting downturn in years, thousands of troops in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine are being told this week they won’t receive pay or retirement credit for future federally funded drills.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all service members in August 2021 and told the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to issue guidance and timelines. The mandate included both active-duty troops and part-time reservists.
Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers who haven’t been granted an approved or pending exemption are subject to several adverse actions, including an official reprimand. Troops who continue to refuse the order could be kicked out, Army officials said.
As of June 30, 89% of soldiers in the Army Reserve are fully vaccinated, while the rate is 88% for the Army National Guard, officials said.
“Unit commanders will be able to activate and pay soldiers for limited administrative purposes, such as receiving the vaccine, processing their exemption requests, or conducting separation procedures,” Army officials said.
Gen. James McConville, the Army Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May that the service was facing the most daunting recruiting challenge he has experienced in his career.
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“We are in a war for talent,” he told the senators. “We need to attract others [and] we need to expose others to the benefits of serving their country.”
That “war for talent” hasn’t stopped the Army from forcing out more than 1,000 vaccine-refusing soldiers as of June 21, however.
Commanders have issued more than 3,400 general officer written reprimands to active duty soldiers who won’t take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Opinions vary on the service’s “get tough” policy for part-time Army soldiers who won’t get the vaccine. A soldier on Reddit, a social media platform, said he rolled up his sleeve because he “likes being employed by the U.S. government.”
“If I didn’t need it to remain employed, I probably wouldn’t have bothered,” he said.
Another Army commentator also said he got the COVID-19 vaccine but acknowledged the mandate was leaving some units inadequately staffed.
“We really are losing a ton of people. It’s brutal,” he wrote. “Tons and tons of experience is being shown the door.”
Some Republican lawmakers are accusing the Biden administration and Mr. Austin of trying to coerce and punish service members who won’t take the COVID-19 vaccine. The Supreme Court threw out a White House attempt to mandate that all major employers in the private sector be vaccinated.
“The Biden administration is destroying the readiness of our armed forces by creating an unnecessary recruiting and retention shortfall and trying to make up the difference by lowering other crucial education and fitness standards,” tweeted Rep. Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican.
“All of this [is] over an illness that is very, very, very unlikely to have any significant effect on the young men and women of our military, and a vaccine that lacks long-term data on safety and efficacy for this cohort,” Mr. Johnson added.
The Army has been throwing piles of cash at their recruiting problem. The service is offering a $35,000 bonus for future soldiers willing to ship out to basic training within 45 days of signing a four-year contract. Even soldiers willing to serve for as few as two years on active duty are eligible for a $10,000 bonus. The “quick ship” bonus can be added on top of other incentives being offered for hard-to-fill jobs. Troops can receive up to $50,000 in combined enlistment incentives, Army officials said.
Pentagon officials have insisted that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is necessary in order to have a fighting force able to win on the battlefield.
“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars. Unvaccinated soldiers present a risk to the force and jeopardizes readiness,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in a statement.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.