The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, said the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is important for ensuring readiness, but acknowledged that the mandate has contributed to the military’s recruiting struggles.
Berger discussed the vaccine mandate during a Saturday panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum.
“We have nine vaccines that we require of everybody that comes into military all for the same reason,” Berger said. “They’re tied to readiness . . . that’s what you need to maintain a healthy unit that can deploy on ship, on shore, it doesn’t matter.”
“Where it is having an impact for sure is on recruiting, where in parts of the country there’s still myths and misbeliefs about the back story behind it and it’s still having an impact in certain areas of the country on recruiting,” Berger said.
Berger acknowledged the COVID-19 vaccine mandate’s impact on recruiting after the entire U.S. military struggled to meet recruiting goals in the 2022 fiscal year. The U.S. Army saw a record-setting 25 percent miss on its recruiting goals. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force met most of their active-duty recruiting goals, but missed on recruiting for their reserve components. The Marine Corps met all of its active and reserve component goals.
During the same Reagan National Defense forum panel discussion, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said he believes the military-wide COVID-19 vaccine order is a lawful order but said “I think it’s imprudent, based on what we know about this strain of the virus and the fact that it’s endemic.”
Gallagher also raised issue with the number of service members who have been dismissed for vaccine refusals.
“I think we’ve dismissed 7,834-ish last time I checked. That’s like two Army brigades I think,” Gallagher said. “I mean that’s a lot of people right and when we need people, so I’m not saying it– I think the order was lawful, I’m not quite there on the readiness argument.”
Just days before their panel discussion, several Republican senators vowed to oppose passing the 2023 defense budget unless the Senate holds a vote on an amendment to do away with the military COVID-19 vaccine policy. The amendment also calls for the military to reinstate service members who were discharged over the vaccine policy, with backpay.