On May 10th, four Cadets First Class (seniors) were ordered to report to the superintendent’s office under the escort of their Air Officer Commanding (AOC) to discuss the status of their requests for religious exemption from taking a COVID vaccine. Representatives from the Judge Advocate and Surgeon General offices were present. The cadets’ Air Force assigned defense attorney attended via teleconference.
For background, appeals the cadets (and 12 other cadets from lower classes) submitted after being denied religious exemptions had been formally denied on March 28th and they had been given five days to start the vaccine process or start the disciplinary and dismissal process. However, their lawyers secured additional time for them to submit medical exemptions and explore other options based on on-going court cases involving other service members in similar situations.
At the meeting, Lt Gen Clark strictly and candidly informed the cadets they had until August 2nd to decide whether or not to take the vaccine before the formal disciplinary process would begin, including the following actions:
– They would not be allowed to graduate (not awarded an academic degree)
– They would not be commissioned
– The superintendent would recommend they be required to pay $160-200K for their academy education (recoupment)
– They would be issued a letter of reprimand to document their refusal to take the vaccine as supporting documentation for discharge and recoupment actions
– They would not receive pay between now and the August 2nd deadline
– They would not be allowed to get a job unless approved by the academy
They were further informed that even if they started the vaccine process right away, they would not be allowed to participate in graduation activities. Rather they could not graduate until they completed the full vaccine regiment.
One cadet asked why they were being punished for their strongly held religious beliefs and exercising their first amendment rights.
Lt Gen Clark replied that they were not being punished. Rather, their religious beliefs were not compatible with the Air Force’s mission, including keeping the force safe and ready, and upholding good morale and discipline.
Similar actions were taken against a senior midshipman from the Merchant Marine Academy who refused to take the vaccine after his exemption appeal was denied. He was recently discharged without an academic degree. He is now working with another school to transfer his credits in hopes they will award the degree.
Sixteen West Point cadets and a Naval Academy midshipman trying to commission into the Space Force are all in a similar position.
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