In the News

The military vaccine mandate’s unforeseen costs

February 15, 2022

By Mike Berry, Vice President of External Affairs, Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel

The purge has begun. Thus far, three branches of the military — the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps — have discharged more than 650 members due to their objection to the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate. The Army recently announced it will soon join those branches. Kicking out hundreds, possibly thousands, of service members because of their beliefs is not only devastating to troop morale, but also harms our national security interests.

General Jimmy Doolittle, who masterminded the legendary Doolittle Raid, famously said “there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” General Doolittle was referring to the millions of Americans who answered the call to serve after the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged America into World War II.  Doolittle understood that a military comprised of those who serve because of their love of country is far superior to a conscripted one.

Today, America still has an all-volunteer force. Indeed, young patriots continue to be the lifeblood of our military. Many cite their religious belief as the primary motivation for joining. But if our nation’s leaders continue to prioritize politics above all else and fulfill their promise to kick out service members because of their beliefs, we run the serious risk of losing that lifeblood.  The message from the Pentagon is clear: if you do not get the vaccine, you are unworthy to serve.  The purge that is now underway will hollow out the military, leaving those who were forced to be vaccinated questioning their leaders, and making military service far less attractive to America’s sons and daughters.

The purge’s effects are not just devastating to morale, but we can expect a measurable reduction in readiness that will harm America’s national security.

The adage “freedom isn’t free” is more accurate than we might realize. According to estimates, it costs approximately $15,000 to successfully recruit one eligible person to join the military.  It then costs another $50,000 to $75,000 to train, equip, and prepare them for service, depending on their assigned duty.  For special forces, such as Navy SEALs, the costs can skyrocket into the millions of dollars per service member.

According to the Navy, more than 8,000 sailors remain unvaccinated. It has now discharged 240 members because they are unvaccinated. Incredibly, these discharges are occurring at a time when the Navy is bemoaning a shortage of more than 5,000 sailors for sea-duty jobs. But the Navy’s relentless and reckless mission to kick out the unvaccinated is not only going to affect readiness, it is also going to hit taxpayers in the pocketbook.

If the Navy successfully kicks out all of its unvaccinated members, American taxpayers will have spent somewhere between $120 million and $600 million on recruiting and training service members who, despite being fully capable, the Navy has deemed unworthy to serve. But those figures must be doubled in order to recruit and train replacements for the unfortunate service members who were involuntarily separated.

This undermines one of the Navy’s stated reasons for its vaccine mandate: cost savings. According to one Navy official, it is less expensive to kick out a sailor than to conduct a medical evacuation due to a COVID outbreak.  This dubious argument fails to consider the financial cost to replace that sailor.  It also does not account for the degradation in trust, morale and esprit de corps that is necessary for any effective military force.  Talk about fraud, waste, and abuse.

Thankfully, the hearts of our volunteers still beat strong. My firm, First Liberty Institute, represents 35 Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare members who will not be kicked out.  These courageous men stepped forward, just as Doolittle’s Raiders did nearly 80 years ago to the day, and dared to challenge the Pentagon’s refusal to grant even a single religious accommodation to the vaccine mandate.

In the first successful challenge to the military vaccine mandate, Judge Reed O’Connor recognized “there is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment.  There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.” And while we hope to provide similar relief across the entire Navy, there are thousands of service members across the entire military facing the purge. The cost to America in lost military manpower, leadership, combat experience and skills goes far beyond a dollar value. The harm to national security by kicking out service members because they object to the vaccine is immeasurable.

The solution is simple. If the Pentagon won’t lift the vaccine mandate, it should at the very least begin honoring its constitutional obligation and grant religious accommodations for service members with sincere religious objections to the vaccine. This first step in recognizing that the Constitution applies to those defending it will ensure we can continue to attract, recruit and retain the best military on earth.

Note: This article was first published on Fox News and is re-published here with permission. The article presents the main points of an op-ed published in Fox News. This work was authored by Mike Berry. The full article can be found on the Fox News website, here.

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