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Marines Bracing for Anti-Vax Fallout After Sunday Deadline…

Marines Bracing for Anti-Vax Fallout After Sunday Deadline…

The Marine Corps faces a defining moment leading up to its Monday deadline for all Marines to have received a coronavirus vaccine, with reports of a significant number who have refused the shot clashing with the service’s meticulously crafted image as the military’s most disciplined fighting force – and its most potent.

Roughly 10,000 of its 186,000-strong active duty force are positioned to miss the deadline the Department of the Navy set for all Marines and sailors to become fully vaccinated, according to the latest data, representing the highest proportion of any of the military services potentially to violate direct orders from the chain of command.

Even those who may have waited until the final weeks to begin the vaccination process will ultimately miss the deadline, which requires Marines to have completed the two-week vaccination process. The 38,000 Marine Corps reservists face a later deadline of Dec. 28.

Marine Corps headquarters has so far declined to say how many have applied for or been granted exemptions – a bureaucratic process to accommodate religious, medical or administrative concerns that has taken on outsized relevance in the age of coronavirus vaccine skepticism – or how it will punish those who outright refuse to receive the shot. A spokesman says it continues to study the scope of the issue.

But those with deep experience in the corps and its place in the wider military say it has already suffered from the initial refusals, with the potential for greater damage after next week.

“For decades the Marine Corps has been about the expeditionary force and readiness. ‘First to Fight,’ ‘Send the Marines’ – all those slogans about how they have to be ready to go on a moment’s notice,” says David Lapan, a former Marine Corps officer and later a spokesman for the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security.

“The Marine Corps prides itself on its discipline and following orders,” he adds. “The idea of rejecting an order, that’s counter to Marine Corps culture.”

The Navy, by comparison, facing the same deadlines neared 100 percent vaccination early this month – matching a trend it has maintained in recent months following the catastrophic fallout of outbreaks that sidelined Navy ships early in the pandemic.

The Office of Management and Budget revealed Wednesday that 92 percent of the entire federal workforce – including the military – had been vaccinated, with 4 percent receiving exemptions. The mandate takes on a different meaning for the Defense Department, however, as it was issued as a formal order by each service member’s chain of command.
Determining the distribution of those who have so far refused the vaccine will be among the most consequential issues facing the Marines, historically the youngest and most conservative of the military branches with tasks ranging from providing security at all U.S. embassies to roving expeditionary units at sea to quick-reaction forces near violent hot spots globally. High levels of disobedience within particular units may be indicative of poor leadership in a hierarchy that singularly prides itself on delegating consequential authority down to the lowest level.

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However, widespread failures to have received the vaccine may cause the hard-charging service to reconsider the foundations of the culture it fosters and how it might affect its missions in the future.

“The Marine Corps because of its brand doesn’t want to be seen as a place where individuals get to decide which orders they follow and which they don’t,” Lapan says. “If Marines now are choosing to disobey a lawful order over the vaccine, what might be the next thing in the future where we see this type of disobedience?”

The corps plans to release greater details about the scope of the problem next week after the Nov. 28 active-duty deadline passes. As of this week, 91 percent of its active-duty force is fully vaccinated with 94 percent having received at least one dose. Only 66 percent of its reserve force has been fully vaccinated.

“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant and the speed with which it transmits among individuals have increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” spokesman Marine Capt. Andrew Wood wrote in an emailed statement in response to specific questions. “We are confident the vaccine protects our Marines, our communities and the Nation.”

The corps’ Manpower and Reserve Affairs division will adjudicate all requests for exemptions to the vaccine for religious reasons or other administrative or medical concerns.

Though Wood declined to specify, other services have reported high rates of exemption requests beyond the traditional scope of that bureaucratic process, including in the Air Force – the only service to have passed the deadline and begun punitive action toward airmen and Space Force guardians who refused the shot. Sources familiar with the requests say some are clearly exploiting it as a forum to include any scrap of information found on the internet to claim that the vaccines are not necessary or perhaps even harmful.

It remains unclear whether religious exemptions will be allowed for those who have not previously requested one for other vaccines. A spokeswoman for the Air Force would not say whether this was a factor in considering these kinds of exemptions.

“Each case is evaluated on its own merits,” spokeswoman Ann Stefanek says.

There will also be a sizable portion of Marines, as in the Air Force, who were already positioned to leave the service in the near future – either for retirement or another planned separation – and are gambling on light punishments for refusing the vaccine.

Despite widespread anecdotal evidence that Marines – like other federal employees – are willing to sacrifice their jobs, pay and benefits over an increasingly political issue like vaccine mandates, other similarly controversial mandates in the past have turned out to have minimal effect on the services.

The Marine Corps, for example, was particularly ardent in its pushback against the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, effectively banning LGBT troops from serving openly.

“But at the end of the day, when given orders, they carried them out,” Lapan says. “There were many people that believe the reason the repeal went so smoothly is because the services had time to implement it in a way to minimize disruption.”

The circumstances are more challenging, however, for a pandemic that requires swift action, he adds.

“It’s different than a pandemic in the immediacy.”

The Pentagon decided shortly after announcing its mandate for troops that lower-level commanders would oversee the specifics of implementing the new rule, acknowledging that, for example, the captain of a submarine would have different requirements than someone overseeing computer maintenance in the Army.

The next deadlines for some reservists and Army soldiers’ deadlines are in December, followed by all reservists and Guard units by June of next year.

Published at Fri, 26 Nov 2021 00:37:36 +0000