Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett poses at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Aug. 22, 2022.

Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett poses at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Aug. 22, 2022. (Jonathan Snyder/Stars and Stripes)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — A Marine who refused the COVID-19 vaccine in Japan is awaiting trial in California on charges of insubordination and other allegations after spending more than 110 days in three brigs, according to the Marine Corps.

Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett, of Fort Worth, Texas, was freed May 15 from the brig at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., a spokesman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing told Stars and Stripes by email May 17. Arnett was not charged with refusing the COVID-19 vaccine but with refusing to leave Japan aboard military flights.

Arnett, a self-described Catholic, has said she objected to the vaccine on religious grounds and considered the vaccine mandate an unlawful order.

She is being backed in California by the Pipe Hitter Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Eddie Gallagher, a former Navy chief petty officer and SEAL acquitted in 2019 of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner in Iraq a year earlier. He was convicted on a single count of posing with the fighter’s corpse.

On May 17, Gallagher said in a video posted on Pipe Hitter’s Facebook page that the foundation has taken up Arnett’s case and is raising money to support her. His wife, Andrea Gallagher, posted a similar, 8-minute-long video on the page the next day.

The Gallaghers say the Marine Corps is retaliating against Arnett for refusing the vaccine. In his 2 ½-minute-long video, Eddie Gallagher said Arnett “was thrown in solitary confinement in the Miramar brig for standing up for her beliefs, her religious beliefs, her rights …”

The foundation, based in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., did not respond to requests Wednesday from Stars and Stripes by email for further comment.

Pipe Hitter support

Pipe Hitter had raised $48,500 as of Wednesday through to pay Arnett’s legal fees and other costs, including clothing, a cellphone and laptop computer, Giorgio Kirylo, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who said he represents the foundation, said by phone May 18.

“We are a platform that provides legal protection to service members and law enforcement who are being legally persecuted,” he said. “We are grassroots people who care about service members who are being persecuted and we want to get the best legal protection in the world.”

In July, Arnett was interviewed for a video posted online by the Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., that encouraged its supporters to reject COVID-19 vaccines. Kennedy in August interviewed Arnett for his podcast.

Arnett while still in Japan was charged after refusing to board military flights from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for California, where the Marines planned to discharge her. She refused to board at least three flights between May 2022 and January, according to Arnett and the Marine Corps, although the Navy criminal docket does not specify the incident for which she is charged.

Arnett could not be reached for comment by phone last week; her family on May 18 referred Stars and Stripes to Kirylo, who said Arnett is not speaking to the media.

“I'm here to take care of her,” he said. “I am managing a woman who has been under such mental stress for the past two years that she needs some time off to get away from the media.”

Arnett was an aviation supply specialist stationed at MCAS Iwakuni from May 2019 until January, when she was moved from the brig there to another at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. She was moved to Miramar on April 19, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Maj. Rob Martins, told Stars and Stripes by email May 17.

“The convening authority determined that California was more appropriate than Japan to proceed with her special court-martial,” he said.

The Marine Corps stopped paying Arnett in January, an “administrative oversight” that will be rectified, Martins said. Arnett will receive the back pay due to her since January, he added.

“Lance Cpl. Arnett’s pay was inadvertently turned off due to an administrative oversight caused by her being processed for administrative separation,” he said.

‘Hunger strike’

Kirylo said the Marines “kicked her out on the curb” from the Miramar brig, where Arnett was held in solitary confinement, with just the clothes on her back.

Martins said Arnett arrived at Miramar while undertaking “a hunger and drinking strike which automatically raised medical concerns.” She also refused to communicate either verbally or in writing, he said.

The medical staff would not clear Arnett to move into the brig’s general population, so she was placed in solitary “to ensure the health and safety of all prisoners and brig staff,” Martins said.

Arnett is represented by attorney Jeremiah Sullivan III, of San Diego, Kirylo said.

Sullivan is a former Navy judge advocate but as a civilian defended Navy Lt. Jake Portier, Gallagher’s former commander on SEAL Team 7. The chief of naval operations at the time, Adm. John Richardson, ordered prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Portier of failing to report Gallagher’s alleged offenses.

President Donald Trump in 2019 restored Gallagher’s rank, pay and benefits and his SEAL Trident pin after he was demoted by the Navy. Kirylo was a defense witness in Gallagher’s case.

Arnett is due back in court July 21 for a special court-martial, Martins said.

She is charged under UCMJ articles 86, failure to go to an appointed place of duty; 87, missing an official flight or ship movement; 87b, breach of restriction; 90, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; and 91, insubordinate conduct, Martins said.

“The Marine Corps is committed to remaining fair and impartial throughout the due process,” he said.

author picture
Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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