Seven cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut were ordered off the campus on Aug. 19 for remaining unvaccinated against COVID-19. Their lawyer says they were escorted away “like criminals” and at least two have no homes to go to.
The academy confirmed to The Day that it had ordered the seven cadets off the New London campus and said they are currently in the “disenrollment” process. The academy is taking the action as punishment for the cadets remaining unvaccinated despite a military-wide vaccine mandate.
Michael Rose, an attorney representing several of the cadets, told The Day that some of them are now in a bind, with nowhere to go. Rose said two of the cadets had no homes to return to after being escorted off campus.
“They were escorted to the gate like they were criminals or something,” Rose said of the cadets. “No one helped them with travel arrangements or gave them any money. One had to get to California, one to Alaska. One’s estranged from home and living out of his truck, according to an email I received describing his situation.”
Rose said the move came with little notice and was “particularly mean-spirited.”
Coast Guard Academy spokesman David Santos told American Military News that the academy determined the seven cadets had violated Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for “willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer,” and “Failure to obey (an) order or regulation.”
Santos said the seven cadets were among 15 who had requested exemptions to the vaccine mandate.
“None of the requests was approved,” Santos said. “Four cadets chose to become vaccinated after their requests for exemptions were denied and four cadets chose to resign from the Academy.”
Santos said on June 13, the academy informed the remaining seven cadets that were in violation of a military order and had five days to begin complying by receiving their first vaccine dose. On June 22, the academy told the cadets they would be disenrolled but could appeal to Coast Guard headquarters. By Aug. 15 the cadets were informed their final appeals had been denied.
Santos said the seven cadets were eventually “directed to proceed to an alternate worksite status beginning on August 19.”
While Rose claimed the academy did not provide for travel arrangements or money for the cadets, Santos claimed the academy “is funding travel to the cadet’s alternate worksites and staff assisted the seven cadets with Coast Guard processes to make travel arrangements.”
“It is the Coast Guard Academy’s understanding that all seven cadets are currently residing a safe location, having either returned to their families or are being hosted by the families of their fellow cadets,” Santos added.
While Rose said the cadets were escorted off “like criminals,” Santos said “all seven cadets departed the Academy at their own convenience on August 19th 2022 throughout the day based on their individual travel arrangements.”
The academy’s actions come as the U.S. military is facing several lawsuits over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
In July, religious freedom organization Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit in a Florida federal court on behalf of “plaintiffs who currently serve in the United States Coast Guard.” They requested an injunction to block the service from punishing unvaccinated members.
Another lawsuit filed in a South Carolina federal court on June 29 directly names Coast Guard Academy cadet Nathan Aime as a plaintiff and references the academy’s June 13 communication to him and other unvaccinated cadets. Aime’s lawyers noted he could “submit an appeal” against the academy’s decision but said such an appeal “is likely to be denied.”
When asked what considerations the academy made toward ongoing lawsuits, Santos told American Military News “the Coast Guard does not comment on any pending litigation.”
Last year, a leaked internal communication showed Coast Guard leaders giving service chaplains instructions for how to scrutinize and challenge those seeking religious exemptions to the vaccine. The instructions told chaplains to question exemption seekers on “what makes this refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 such an important part of their religion or their religious beliefs?,” “how long they have held their current religious beliefs” and “whether their religion supports altruism and protection of others, or making sacrifices.”
When asked for advice, chaplains at the academy were given in regards to handling religious accommodations to the vaccine, Santos said “all religious accommodation requests were evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Coast Guard’s Office of Military Police.” Santos also directed American Military News to the service’s guidance on vaccine exemptions.
The Coast Guard’s vaccine exemption guidance lays out specific criteria for requesting medical exemptions to the vaccine. The guidance says the service “will also consider an accommodation for a sincerely held religious belief” but does not provide criteria for being granted such a religious accommodation.