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Navy kicks out first 20 unvaccinated sailors

Recruits stand in formation during a capping ceremony inside USS Trayer at Recruit Training Command, Oct. 28, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Spencer Fling)
January 10, 2022

The U.S. Navy said last week it has separated its first 20 sailors for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Navy announced in a service-wide COVID-19 response update that 20 sailors had been separated as of Jan. 5. The service described the action as Entry Level Separations (ELS), indicating all 20 service members were separated during initial training periods within their first 180 days of active duty. No additional sailors have been separated at this time.

The separation of these first 20 sailors from the Navy comes nearly a month after the Navy issued a memo to commanders to proceed with separating sailors. The memo advised commanders across the Navy to automatically issue Honorable Discharges to those sailors with less than six years of time in the service, who are not entitled to administrative separation boards or boards of inquiry. For sailors with more than six years of service, who are administrative separation boards or boards of inquiry, the Navy memo advised commanders to give General Discharges under Honorable conditions; but those sailors can receive an Honorable Discharge if they agree to waive their right to a separation board or board of inquiry.

A full Honorable Discharge is preferable to a General Discharge under Honorable conditions. Any discharge status other than an Honorable Discharge can result in a loss of veteran benefits.

To date, the Navy has granted eight permanent medical exemptions to the military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The service has granted another 242 temporary medical exemptions and 74 administrative exemptions. Of the 3,009 religious accommodation requests the Navy has received so far for the vaccination, it has approved none.

None of the other military services have approved religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine either.

The Navy’s refusal to grant any religious accommodations to the vaccine mandate is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.

In a federal court decision last Monday, Judge Reed O’Connor of U.S. District Court Texas’ Northern District 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, O’Connor wrote that the service member’s 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.

The Navy is the latest U.S. military branch to begin separating service members for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. Air Force was the first to separate service members for vaccine refusals. For purposes of recording COVID-19 response data, both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force have combined their reporting. As of Dec. 14, the Air Force reported it had separated 27 service members for vaccine refusals.

The U.S. Marine Corps also started separating service members in December. Military.com reported that as of this week 251 Marines have been separated so far for vaccine refusals.

The U.S. Army is the remaining military service to begin processing service members for separations for vaccine refusals. The Army has relieved at least six officers of their commands for refusing the vaccines and has issued 2,767 general officer written reprimands to soldiers for vaccine refusals. Those service members are continuing to serve, but the Army announced that beginning this month, it will start “involuntary separation for the less than one percent of active component Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption.”