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Air Force kicking out master sergeant over COVID vaccine after 19-year career

Air Force MSgt. Nick Kupper. (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)
July 07, 2022

A U.S. Air Force master sergeant who has served with the branch for the past 19 years has been separated after the service denied him a religious exemption from the military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In an interview on Wednesday with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Air Force MSgt Nick Kupper announced he would be separated from the service on Thursday, “all because they won’t grant me a religious exemption waiver.”

Kupper said Air Force leaders called him just before his appearance on Carlson’s show to let him know they want to process his separation package.

“They’re looking to kick me out,” Kupper said on Wednesday night. “Actually as of tomorrow, they just called me before the show and said, they want to issue my separation package.”

Kupper has maintained a strong positive record throughout his Air Force service. A 2017 Air Force Times article profiling Kupper noted the Airman twice won the Air Force’s recruiter of the year award and that he had devoted thousands of hours of his spare time to mentoring youth through programs on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey and with his local church. He has also raised money for child sponsoring organizations and has visited, cared for and sponsored orphans from Armenia.

Kupper garnered media attention for competing on American Ninja Warrior in 2018. The Air Force’s recruiting service even promoted his appearance in a tweet, “Ever wonder what our Airmen do in their spare time? Tune into @nbc tonight at 8 p.m. EDT to watch MSgt Nick Kupper compete in @ninjawarrior #MondayMotivation #AimHigh.”

Despite his strong past record, Kupper said the Air Force was moving forward with his separation.

The separation, just shy of the 20-year mark for Kupper to be eligible for full military retirement, poses an added challenge for his family as he has a child with special needs and his family was expecting the benefits that come with an honorable discharge after 20 years of service. According to Air Force Magazine, nearly all Airmen discharged over the COVID vaccine mandate are receiving general discharges under honorable conditions, which can result in the loss of some benefits.

“So after 19 years, they’re going to throw away everything away that I’ve worked for,” Kupper told Carlson.

Kupper said hundreds of thousands of service members across the U.S. military could be kicked out over the vaccine requirements, even as all branches have struggled with meeting their recruiting goals for the 2022 fiscal year.

Just over 97 percent of the Air Force’s active component, reserve and Air National Guard are fully vaccinated and only an additional .1 percent are partially vaccinated. As of last week, the Air Force had separated 672 Airmen over the vaccine mandate.

More than 9,000 Airmen like Kupper have submitted requests for religious accommodations, of which 6,642 have been rejected by their commanders, 2,399 are still pending and only 98 have been approved. Thousands have gone through an appeals process after their initial religious waiver requests were denied. 3,445 appeals were rejected, while another 721 appeals are still pending. Only 30 Airmen have had religious exemption requests approved on appeal.

Kupper said the Air Force has actually only been granting religious exemptions to Airmen that are already in the process of separating.

This article was updated to clarify information about Kupper’s separation from the Air Force and about his family.