Today's D Brief: Army relieves officers over vaccine refusal; Record-setting defense budget advances; Marines' new AAV plan; And a bit more.

The U.S. Army has relieved two battalion commanders for refusing a COVID-19 vaccination, service officials announced Thursday—one day after the Army’s vaccine deadline. 

A total of six unspecified “active-duty leaders” have been relieved (including those two commanders) and 2,767 soldiers have received written reprimands from a general officer for their refusal; that’s out of 3,864 who have “refused the vaccination order without a pending or approved exemption,” according to officials.

Overall, 96% of active duty soldiers are fully vaccinated, and that adds up to more than 461,000 soldiers. Nearly 6,300 have received “temporary medical or administrative exemptions.” Just four have received “permanent medical exemptions,” and exactly zero have officially secured religious exemptions.

Next: Commanders will begin separating soldiers starting in January. So far, that constitutes “less than one percent of active component soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order” without a formal exemption, Army public affairs officials said. 

Meanwhile, six states are now rejecting the Defense Department’s order requiring all members of the National Guard to be vaccinated against COVID-19, arguing that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s mandate exceeds his constitutional authority, Defense One’s Tara Copp reported Wednesday.  

The GOP governors of Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Wyoming asked SecDef Austin in a letter on Tuesday that he rescind decisions by the Air Force and Army to eject service members who refuse to get the vaccine. (Oklahoma first broke the seal, as it were, on this issue last month.)

Now what? “Military law experts said there was a high chance the vaccine dispute will be decided in the courts,” Copp writes. However, those experts “were split on whether the Defense Department or states would prevail.”

Said retired Air Force major general and current Duke law professor Charlie Dunlap: “If a governor wants a ‘militia’ force free from all federal requirements, they can establish—and fund—their own state defense force separate from the Guard, but no federal money or equipment would flow to it.” Read more, here.


From Defense One

State Guards’ Vaccine Refusal Sets Up Fight with Feds // Tara Copp: Six governors are rejecting the Pentagon’s order to inoculate their troops against COVID. Is a lawsuit next?

Marines Remove AAVs From Deployment, Water Ops // Jennifer Hlad: The amphibious assault vehicle associated with the deadly 2020 sinking will no longer be used for deployments or offshore training.

Chinese Firms Targeted by New Biden Orders Meant to Curb Fentanyl, Synthetic Drugs // Patrick Tucker: Deaths from fentanyl, which is largely produced in China, have overtaken heroin overdoses in the United States.

Three Soldiers to Receive Medal of Honor // Caitlin M. Kenney: The awards are for actions during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Trollfare: How to Recognize and Fight Off Online Psyops // Larissa Doroshenko and Josephine Lukito: It starts by understanding common tactics: distort, distract, dismiss, deny, and dismay.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1863, and after about six weeks of setbacks around Chattanooga, the treasonous and under-achieving Gen. Braxton Bragg was finally replaced as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, whose soldiers had grown tired of their leader's abuse and lack of success. Bragg’s losses around Lookout Mountain (“See Rock City,” if you’ve never done so before, to behold the superb terrain Bragg squandered) helped pave the way for Union Gen. William Sherman’s march to Atlanta, which he burned to the ground less than a year later, crushing slave holders’ hopes for a later victory. 


The U.S. military just secured its largest-ever budget on Wednesday. In an 88-11 vote, senators advanced the National Defense Authorization Act, coming in at a record $768 billion dollars this year, which is about $25 billion more than the White House asked for.
For what it’s worth,“In both chambers, Republicans supporting the bill outnumbered Democrats, despite the fact that Democrats control both the House and Senate,” the Washington Post reported after Wednesday’s vote. CNN has more on what’s in and what’s out, here; USA Today has much of the same treatment, here.

The U.S. Marine Corps says it will no longer use its 70s-era Amphibious Assault Vehicles in the water during training exercises, and it won’t send them on deployments. However, they will still use them on land, and they might one day enter the water again for crisis response scenarios, Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad reported Wednesday.
The decision by Commandant Gen. David Berger comes after multiple investigations into the fatal sinking of an AAV off the coast of Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 2020 revealed myriad problems with training and maintenance, including that the Marines aboard the ill-fated AAV were not properly trained on how to escape from the vehicle.
FWIW, the Marine Corps believes AAVs are “safe and effective,” provided the fixes recommended in the investigations are implemented and maintained.
By the way: The vehicle slated to replace the AAV, the amphibious combat vehicle, is also currently banned from waterborne operations because of a problem with the towing mechanism. Maj. James Stenger, a Marine spokesman, said the Corps expects that problem to be resolved soon.
That leaves the Marine Corps with two waterborne options for getting Marines from ship to shore: The Landing Craft Air Cushion, a hovercraft known as the LCAC; and the Landing Craft Utility, a type of boat known as the LCU. Notably, both travel on top of the water and so are better suited for amphibious landings under friendly conditions—unlike the AAV, which has a low profile in the water. Read more here.

The U.S. Navy just carried out a laser test in the waters near Yemen, Central Command officials announced following the test Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden.
Involved: The “Solid State Laser—Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0,” which was fired from the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland.
View an exceptionally blurry photo of the test captured via a specialized lens filter, here.

Don’t let your guard down when it comes to online security this holiday season, White House cyber professionals are warning corporate executives and U.S. business leaders.
“Historically we have seen breaches around national holidays because criminals know that security operations centers are often short-staffed, delaying the discovery of intrusions,” Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger and National Cyber Director Chris Inglis warn in a letter released Thursday morning.
Some of the measures you can take to better protect yourself: 

  • Make sure all patches are current;
  • Change your passwords, if it’s been a while since you last did that; 
  • Activate “Multi-Factor Authentication” (aka MFA) where possible;
  • And back up whatever data is most important to you. Read more here.

And lastly: POTUS46 plans to award three Medals of Honor this afternoon at the White House around 1:30 p.m. ET. Catch it live on C-Span, here.
Those recognized today include Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee. Plumlee is the only soldier who did not perish as a result of his selfless actions being celebrated today.
“Cashe’s family has been waiting more than a decade to see his heroic actions recognized,” Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports in a preview. Cashe rescued six soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter from the burning vehicle in 2005. His fuel-soaked clothing caught fire and nearly 72 percent of his body was burned; he died less than a month later. Read on for the accounts of Celiz and Plumlee, here.

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