U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Nicholas Rupiper

‘You Are Hereby Reprimanded!’ Airman Told to Begin Separation Due to Vaccine Refusal

Airmen, sailors who refuse vaccine are looking at career-ending consequences. Will the church step in?

An airman with the 319th Reconnaissance Wing has been directed to begin separating from the military over his refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

“You are hereby reprimanded!” the commander of the Grand Forks, North Dakota-based unit wrote Oct. 3 in a letter of reprimand obtained by Defense One. “You failed to follow a direct order…and by doing so have placed yourself and your fellow airmen in danger.”

The 319th’s commander had ordered all wing airmen to get vaccinated by Sept. 28. That’s earlier than the service-wide Nov. 2 deadline set by Air Force headquarters. 

“You have shown you are not committed to maintaining readiness for the Department of the Air Force,” the letter continued. “Because your behavior is inconsistent with further service in the Department of the Air Force,” the airman was ordered to begin the initial steps of military separation, including enrolling in the Air Force’s transition assistance program and completing a separation history and physical examination.

The letter left the door open for the airman to change his mind on the vaccine: “Further deviation or failure to comply may result in more severe action.” 

An image of the orders—which had been set in a frame—was posted to the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook group earlier this month. A spokesperson for the 319th Reconnaissance Wing could not immediately verify the authenticity of the letter.  

On Tuesday, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy P. Broglio told service members they could refuse the vaccine on religious grounds, further muddying what guidelines forces should follow. 

“No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” Broglio said in a statement released Tuesday.

Last week, the Air Force issued guidance to airmen and guardians about how they can apply for a religious exemption, if they seek one, which requires a formal written request and an interview with a chaplain. 

This airman is not the only one to get a warning; in another letter, dated Oct. 5, the commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base advised an airman there to reconsider his decision to not get vaccinated or face further disciplinary action. 

“Your actions put your dedication to service into question,” the Malmstrom commander wrote. 

Last month, the Air Force issued general guidance that it had a full range of administrative options to address airmen who do not get vaccinated, but has not issued more specific guidelines like the Navy did Thursday, where it warned officers they could be removed from command within five days if they did not comply. 

An Air Force spokesman told Defense One that the decision on how to handle individual cases is being left to unit commanders who “are counseling their airmen, depending on what the situation is.”