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The Threat of the DoD COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

The surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one. Doing so requires a competitive approach to force development and a consistent, multiyear investment to restore warfighting readiness and field a lethal force. The size of our force matters. The Nation must field sufficient, capable forces to defeat enemies and achieve sustainable outcomes that protect the American people and our vital interests.

National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (published by the Department of Defense)

Recent court stays of Covid shot mandates for federal contractors do not affect the military mandate or the Department of Defense (DoD) civilian mandate. Uniformed service and general service DoD employees remain under this health mandate — and I, like many others, call on the DoD to seriously consider a stay of the mandatory coronavirus disease 2019 vaccination of DoD personnel until its impact on national defense is fully understood. At this point, the loss of military manpower through administrative separation and termination of unvaccinated personnel, decreased retention and increased retirement could present a greater threat to immediate and future military operations and readiness than the virus itself.

Immediate Risk

During World War II, an average of 220 U.S. service members died per day, or nearly 6,600 per month. If unvaccinated service members are administratively separated and DoD civilians are terminated, assuming a very conservative 12-month timeline, the rate of attrition would reach an astronomical 27,000 personnel per month — more than four times the average monthly casualty rate during the bloodiest war in human history.

Military commanders rely on three essential warfighting resources to execute their missions:

1. Manpower – uniformed services, civilian and contractor

2. Equipment – vehicles, weapons systems, communications infrastructure, etc.

3. Consumables – fuel, food, ammunition, etc.

Absent a stay, mandate-related attrition will significantly undermine manpower resources across the DoD. Comparing total uniformed service and DoD appropriated fund civilian populations against recently reported DoD and Office of Personnel Management vaccination figures, an estimated 276,904 uniformed service members and 50,318 DoD appropriated fund civilians remain unvaccinated, representing approximately 13 percent and 6.6 percent of their respective populations. According to published service-level policies, all of these personnel face potential administrative separation or termination if the mandate is not suspended.

On August 24, 2021, the Secretary of Defense ordered DoD uniformed service members to become fully vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Secretaries of the Military Departments were advised to “… impose ambitious timelines for implementation,” and, through various Department-specific orders, promulgated deadlines for vaccination. On October 1, 2021, all DoD civilian employees were ordered to become fully vaccinated no later than November 22, 2021.

Uniformed service members are highly trained and ready to respond at a moment’s notice to natural disasters, humanitarian crises and conflict anywhere in the world in defense of the USA and its Constitution. Appropriated fund DoD civilians also contribute to the defense and protection of our nation by enabling the warfighter across various disciplines such as engineering, logistics and procurement, information technology, cybersecurity, intelligence, financial management and law.

What are the operational and readiness impacts of these force reductions? How does the DoD plan to replace the manpower and expertise that would be lost to the mandate? What national security risks does the DoD plan to accept in order to follow-through with the published consequences of the mandate?

Future Risk

Natural attrition from the uniformed services and the civilian workforce occurs largely through enlisted service members’ decision not to reenlist, officer resignation, and retirement. Historical precedent indicates that the DoD may face significant increased attrition as a result of the mandate.

In September 2002, the General Accounting Office (GAO) published a Report to Congressional Requesters titled “Anthrax Vaccine GAO’s Survey of Guard and Reserve Pilots and Aircrew” (GAO-02-445) focusing in-depth on the manpower impact of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program (AVIP) on one critical career field in the National Guard and Reserves. Although there are some differences between the two vaccination programs, the results of this report could foreshadow future risk related to the current mandate. Quoting in full from GAO-02-445 “Results in Brief” (underline added for emphasis),

In marked contrast to other mandatory DoD immunization requirements, our sample survey in 2000 showed that AVIP was at that time adversely affecting the retention of trained and experienced guard and reserve pilots and aircrew members. While many factors can and do influence an individual’s decision to participate in the military, a significant number of pilot and aircrew members cited the required mandatory anthrax immunization as a key reason for reducing their participation or leaving the military altogether in 2000.

Between September 1998 and September 2000, about 16 percent of the pilots and aircrew members of the guard and reserve had (1) transferred to another unit (primarily to nonflying positions to avoid or delay receiving the anthrax shots), (2) moved to inactive status, or (3) left the military. Additionally, an estimated one in five (18 percent) of those still participating in or assigned to a unit in 2000 — that is, those who had not already changed their status — indicated their intention to leave in the near future. Both groups, those who had already left and those indicating their intention to leave, ranked AVIP as a key factor in their decision to leave or change their participation. We estimated that about 24 percent of those who had already left did so knowing they were doing so before qualifying for military retirement benefits. A majority of those who had changed status and those intending to do so were experienced pilots who held crew qualifications of flight evaluators, flight instructors, and aircraft commanders, representing the loss of a very seasoned workforce.

The results of this report clearly portend the manpower-related risks of controversial DoD mandatory vaccination programs, particularly on critical career fields. Of concern, according to the DoD Report to the Congressional Armed Services Committees on Initiatives for Mitigating Military Pilot Shortfalls, as of January 16, 2019, the DoD faced an enduring “… pilot shortfall in excess of 3,000 pilots.”

Has there been any improvement in the DoD pilot shortfall since early 2019? Could the current mandate impact this and other critical career fields like the AVIP did from 1998 to 2000? What are the specific, cascading effects on military operations and readiness?

Recommendations

In the interest of national security, the DoD should stay the mandate pending a full report to the Congressional Armed Services Committees on the mission- and readiness-related consequences of immediate and future mandate-related attrition. Such a report should include impact statements and mitigating courses of action wherever mandate-related manpower shortfalls affect military readiness or create risk at the strategic and operational levels of war. Additionally, the report should include the DoD’s plan to replace manpower lost through mandate-related attrition, with specific attention to critical career fields.

Conclusion

Americans deserve public transparency, particularly when policy affects armed forces readiness and national security interests. Until the public and their representatives are provided full disclosure of the impact of this policy through legislative oversight, the executive should stay the mandate and facilitate a judicious assessment of the safety of the Republic and its people.

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