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Army Sgt. Maj. Guy Miller, aviation maintenance specialist with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, receives a coronavirus vaccine from Sgt. Kenneth Hesler, a combat medic with the 156th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, at a medical clinic at Camp Buehring in Kuwait on March 13, 2021.
Army Sgt. Maj. Guy Miller, aviation maintenance specialist with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, receives a coronavirus vaccine from Sgt. Kenneth Hesler, a combat medic with the 156th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, at a medical clinic at Camp Buehring in Kuwait on March 13, 2021. (Capt. Travis Mueller)

WASHINGTON – Six active-duty Army leaders have been fired and 103 Marines have been discharged for refusing to receive the coronavirus vaccine that the Pentagon mandated in August, the services said Thursday.

Two Army battalion commanders are among the six soldiers relieved of duty, the service said in a statement, without naming the leaders. However, they have not been discharged. The Army’s vaccination deadline was Wednesday and the service is giving extra time for soldiers to change their minds before starting the separation process next month.

“To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said. “If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.”

The Army has issued 2,767 written reprimands to soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccine order. In total, about active-duty 3,864 soldiers, which is less than one percent of the active force, have refused the vaccine without a pending or approved exemption.

Now that the Army’s deadline has passed, the National Guard is the only force still awaiting its deadline. Guard members have until June 30 to receive their vaccines, unless called upon to deploy with active-duty forces, in which case they must already be vaccinated.

However, Oklahoma and Texas have refused to enforce the vaccine mandate for their Guard troops after the governors of those states have argued they should be able to control the mandate while Guard members are under a Title 10 status, which means on a mission controlled by state officials.

“If the federal government keeps threatening to defund the Texas National Guard, I will deploy every legal tool available to me as governor in defense of these American heroes,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Thursday letter to the Pentagon announcing his refusal to enforce the mandate.

Additionally, the governors of Wyoming, Iowa, North Dakota, Alaska, Nebraska and Mississippi sent a letter Tuesday asking Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to cancel the Pentagon’s mandate for Guard members operating under state authority.

The deadlines to be vaccinated for the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force passed last month and those services have already begun the process of forcing out vaccine refusers. The Marine Corps is the second service branch to announce separation totals after the Air Force on Monday announced it had discharged 27 airmen for refusing the vaccine.

The Navy on Wednesday instructed commanders to begin processing separations, but so far none have been reported.

While some critics have argued separating service members could cause a readiness issue, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Thursday urged the public to consider the “perspective” on vaccine refusal discharges.

“The Air Force noted that 27 were initially being processed for administrative discharge, but 1,800 [airmen] had been administratively discharged throughout the year [of] 2021 for any number of other reasons,” Kirby told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon.

Still, separation and vaccine refusal rates are comparatively low. Across the active-duty force, more than 97% of troops have had at least one shot and 90.7% are fully vaccinated, Kirby said.

By military branch, about 95% of the active-duty Marine Corps, 98% of the Navy, 97.5% of the Air Force and 98% of the Army were at least partially vaccinated, according to data the services issued this week.

The Pentagon considers troops partially vaccinated until two weeks have passed since receiving their final vaccine dose.

Some of the unvaccinated troops have either been granted or are awaiting final decisions on vaccine exemptions. The services allow troops to request exemptions for health, administrative and religious reasons.

To date, the Army has approved four out of 621 requests for medical exemptions, with 516 already having been disapproved and 101 still under review, according to the service. The Navy has approved seven permanent medical exemptions and 296 temporary medical exemptions.

The Air Force and Marine Corps also included administrative exemption totals in their updates the week. So far, the Air Force has issued 1,010 active-duty medical exemptions and 153 administrative exemptions. The Marine Corps has approved 1,007 temporary and permanent medical and administrative exemptions across its active-duty and Reserve force.

No service branch has approved any religious exemption requests, though it’s been the most frequently requested type of vaccine exemption. The Army has received 1,746 religious exemption requests, the Navy has received 2,751, the Marine Corps has received 3,144 and Air Force has received more than 4,700.

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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