Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, the commanding general of the Fort Rucker U.S. Army Garrison in Alabama, announced on Monday that the base will now require unmasked service members “to show proof of vaccination” against COVID-19 while on duty, making it the first U.S. military base to actively check unmasked troops’ vaccine statuses.
In a Facebook video, Francis said, “If you are not wearing a mask, the leadership will be able to ask you, to ask soldiers to prove that they have been vaccinated by showing their vaccination card.”
“This measure is very important so we can nip this in the bud and continue to protect our mission, protect our people and protect the local communities,” Francis added.
Fort Rucker further described its vaccine policy in an updated general order published this week. The order states vaccinated service members may work unmasked, but unvaccinated service members must remain masked. The order states unvaccinated soldiers must wear a mask both on-post and at all off-post non-residential buildings and facilities “regardless of whether physical separation of six (6) feet can be maintained from other personnel.”
The order further describes the vaccination checks, stating “Unmasked, fully vaccinated servicemembers must be prepared to show proof of vaccination (CDC vaccination card or other medical documentation).”
Regarding civilian personnel, the order states, “Supervisors may NOT ask unmasked civilian employees, to include DA Civilians and contractors, about vaccination status unless the supervisor has a reasonable basis to believe, based on reliable evidence, that the unmasked employee is not
fully vaccinated. The unmasked civilian employees must be taken at their word unless the supervisor has good reason not to. Any supervisor who suspects an unmasked civilian employee of not being fully vaccinated should first talk with their legal advisor and thoroughly document the basis for his/her belief before taking any action.”
Some people have reportedly begun making fake proof of vaccination documents, though the FBI warned in April that those who do try to pass off fake vaccine records could face in up to five years prison time. The unauthorized use of agencies’ official seals, including the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a crime punishable under Title 18 of United States Code, Section 1017.
The various COVID-19 vaccines, which have been permitted for use through FDA Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) do not yet have full FDA approval, and vaccines remain voluntary for U.S. military personnel.
Recently, the U.S. Army reportedly began advising commands to prepare to implement mandatory vaccinations service-wide by September, in anticipation of full FDA approval for at least one vaccine.
Following the Army’s reported mandatory vaccine plans, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) tweeted that he had had U.S. service members tell him they would seek a way to quit their military service if they are forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The exact means by which a service member can “quit” is unclear. Troops can’t typically leave the military until their period of military service is over, though Massie noted some instances in which service members were able to resign under honorable conditions after refusing the Anthrax vaccine in the late 90s and early 2000s.
A 2004 federal court decision put a stop to the military’s mandatory Anthrax vaccination program and ruled the previous six years of vaccine administration to be illegal. Many U.S. service members were, however, given dishonorable discharges, and even court-martialed for refusing the vaccine and many have struggled to have their military records corrected in the years since the 2004 court decision.
To date, President Joe Biden has not reached a decision on whether to mandate COVID vaccines for U.S. service members. In an April interview, Biden said, “I don’t know, I’m going to leave that to the military,” before adding, “I’m not saying I won’t. I think you’re going to see more and more of them getting it. I think it is a tough call as to whether or not they should be required to have to get it in the military.”
This week former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called on Biden to mandate the COVID-19 to all U.S. troops.