U.S. Army soldiers who remain unvaccinated and either have not requested an exemption or have had their exemption requests and appeals denied will be allowed to serve in spite of the Army’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but they will be barred from reenlistment or promotion.
In a November 16 memo obtained by Government Executive, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth laid out how the service will handle punishments for soldiers who defy the military-wide vaccine mandate. Wormuth’s memo authorized commanders to flag soldiers.
Soldiers who refuse the vaccine without an approved waiver will not be immediately separated from the service, but their military careers will be stalled out at their current ranks with no chance to serve beyond their current contract period.
Soldiers will also be barred from being issued awards and decorations, attending military or civilian schools, applying for tuition assistance and receiving bonuses and assuming command positions.
“The Soldier will remain flagged until they are fully vaccinated, receive an approved medical or administrative exemption, or are separated from the Army,” Wormuth wrote.
“I authorize commanders to impose bars to continued service…for all soldiers who refuse the mandatory vaccine order without an approved exemption or pending exemption request,” Wormuth also wrote.
Lt. Col. Gabriel Ramirez told Military.com, “At this time, the secretary has not authorized any separations with the sole basis being refusal to follow the COVID-19 vaccination order.”
Wormuth’s memo applies to both active and reserve components of the Army, as well as the National Guard.
Wormuth said all soldiers covered in the memo who refuse the vaccines without an approved or pending exemption request will remain flagged.
It is unclear how effectively Wormuth’s memo can bar reenlistments and promotions for troops serving in the National Guard, who serve in both state and federal capacities. The memo comes in the days after Oklahoma National Guard Adjutant Gen. Thomas Mancino said the state’s National Guard would not be requiring troops to take the vaccines and would not take any punitive measures against those who refuse the vaccines.
Eugene Fidell, a military law professor at the New York University School of Law, told Defense One the question of whether state governors or federal officials have ultimate authority over the National Guard will likely be determined by the courts.
The Army’s method for dealing with soldiers who refuse the vaccines differs from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Last week, the Navy began the process of separating sailors who refused the vaccine and warning those that are denied their vaccine exemption requests have five days to start the vaccination process or vaccine separation.
During a Nov. 18 Facebook townhall, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall was asked whether he wants unvaccinated Airmen separated from the service, to which he responded, “It’s actually a pretty straightforward question. The bottom line is that willfully disobeying a lawful order is incompatible with military service. And to get a vaccination is a lawful order.