The U.S. Marine Corps is currently leading as the military branch that has separated the most service members for refusing the COVID-19 vaccines; but at the same time, the branch has also quietly implemented a policy that could let those same Marines easily rejoin.
In a late-December memo, first reported by Military.com on Thursday, the Marine Corps announced that those Marines separated for refusing the military-wide vaccine mandate would have their reentry codes changed from “RE-4” to “RE-3P.” The subtle change means that rather than being barred from reenlistment, those Marines can instead reenlist if they are granted a waiver.
The reentry eligibility code 4 (RE-4) typically indicates the separated service member is completely barred from reenlisting.
A RE-3 code indicates a service member is allowed to reenlist if they have an approved waiver. The “P” designation on a RE-3 code indicates a separation for a physical reason and a requirement for a corresponding physical waiver.
The Dec. 22 Marine Corps memo states the service’s COVID-19 vaccine-related separation guidance “is amended to change the reentry code of ‘RE-4’ to reflect ‘RE-3P.’ Paragraph 8.b. is modified to read ‘Enlisted Marines separated from active duty on the sole basis of failure to comply with MARADMIN 462/21 will receive a reentry code of “RE-3P.'”
In explaining the amended policy, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce told Military.com, “If a Marine is willing to be vaccinated, even after separation, we would welcome them back.”
“The adjusted reentry code reduces the administrative burden and timeliness of that process,” Bruce added.
As of its most current records, the Marine Corps has separated 399 Marines for refusing the COVID-19 vaccines; the most of any U.S. military branch.
At the same time that the Marine Corps is most frequently processing vaccine-related separations, the branch is also the only one to have approved any waivers for the vaccine on religious grounds. In an emailed update on its vaccination progress, the Marine Corps announced three Marines have been granted religious accommodations for the vaccine mandate.
On Jan. 13 Marine Corps announced it had granted the first two COVID-19 religious accommodations across the entire U.S. military. This third approved religious waiver comes nearly two weeks later. In total, the service has received 3,428 requests for religious accommodations and has processed 3,377 requests, denying 3,374.
The Marine Corps has separately approved 627 administrative or medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate.
As of Tuesday, the U.S. Air Force has received 5,230 religious waiver requests. The service has processed and rejected 2,787 requests, while the remaining 2,443 requests are pending. No religious waivers have been granted.
As of Thursday, the U.S. Army has received 2,910 religious waiver requests. It has processed just 266 of those religious waiver requests and has approved none.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. Navy has received 4,034 religious waiver requests, including 3,258 in its active component and 776 in the Navy Reserve. The Navy also has not approved any religious waiver requests.
The Navy’s continued lack of approved religious exemptions is the subject of at least one lawsuit. Earlier this month, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to 35 Naval Special Warfare service members who sued the military and President Joe Biden over the vaccine mandate. In his decision, Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the service members’ religious objections to the vaccine are “undisputedly sincere.” In many cases, the plaintiffs’ commanding officers also recommended their religious accommodation requests be approved, yet none had been approved and 29 out of 35 were outright rejected. O’Connor said the Navy “merely rubber stamps each denial” to a religious accommodation request.