Military leaders must learn the right lessons from the Covid-19 vaccine mandate debacle

By Col. Paul Vicars, USAF

Covid-19 is no longer a threat to national security. And, contrary to prior opinions, neither are the thousands of military members who pursued religious accommodation to the vaccine mandate.

In the nearly four months since the end of the mandate, we have not observed senior officers testifying before the House Armed Services Committee that the mandate must be resumed because the mission and cohesion of the force is suffering.

We have not seen a ground swell of commanders lamenting the additional efforts they must take to ensure readiness because those remaining unvaccinated service members are wreaking havoc on their units. We have not seen letters to Congressmen from service members recounting the harms they endure because of their unvaccinated peers.

Quite the opposite has occurred. There has been a kind of collective sigh of relief across the force because the administrative and social burden of the largely unnecessary discharge process that unvaccinated service members underwent or awaited is now obsolete.

Additionally, those who were previously flagged for discharge have largely gone back to their normal duties—accomplishing, not hindering, the mission.

All of this demonstrates that denying the unvaccinated service members’ religious accommodation requests and staging their discharge was not the right decision for the force.

While I believe there were sound arguments against the military’s Covid vaccine mandate in the first place, my argument here is narrower.

Based on the evidence we have, it is clear commanders should have approved religious accommodation requests in many, many more cases than they did.

It was their responsibility to do so, as there were reasons to question whether the vaccine should be prioritized over fundamental constitutional rights. . . .

. . . Military leadership ignored the evidence, and denied the overwhelming majority of religious accommodation requests, frequently citing broad generalities or half-truths about the particular circumstances in which the requestors served.

The time since the end of the mandate has proven these military leaders to have been in error. Had they been permitted to continue on that errant path, national security would certainly have been adversely impacted. As I wrote in December, ending the mandate is only the first step in repairing the harms done during the mandate.

To recover from the error, military leaders and commanders should consider how they might avoid being on the wrong side of this sort of issue in the future.

Toward this end, I offer two principles that would have decreased the likelihood of making the wrong decision on the Covid-19 accommodations issue.. . .  (read more on American Conservative)

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