Hours Before Army Unceremoniously Dropped Strict COVID-19 Rules, Command Was Called Out in a Big Way
Hours before the U.S. Army dropped COVID-19 policies, including the vaccine requirement, two GOP congressmen called out the Army for continuing to enforce the mandate for prospective West Point students in a letter obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Daily Caller News Foundation received credible reports that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was still requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for cadet candidates, even though the service had paused discharges for soldiers refusing the vaccine and largely removed vaccine restrictions from current cadets.
The Army’s policy reversal came just over 24 hours after Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Mike Waltz of Florida sent a letter Thursday to the secretary of the Army’s top civilian assistant pressing for answers about West Point’s policies Thursday.
“It’s shocking the Army had not rescinded its vaccine mandate until apparently after they received our letter – within mere minutes,” Waltz told the DCNF, pledging to guard against “discrimination” at the military academies.
On Friday, the House Armed Services Committee announced a hearing on the military’s COVID-19 response was scheduled for Thursday.
“It shouldn’t have taken a letter and a hearing from Armed Services Republicans to convince the Army and West Point to follow the law and fully reverse a partisan mandate that’s been a complete disaster for individual service members and our military readiness,” Banks, who chairs House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, told the DCNF Monday.
Congress’ defense bill for 2023 legislated the end of the military vaccine mandate. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rescinded orders to implement a vaccine mandate across the entire Department of Defense on Jan. 10 in compliance with Congress’ order.
However, each service must issue separate orders rolling back COVID-19 orders and providing guidance on how to treat the thousands of servicemembers who refused the mandate.
Many had negative marks on their records or were waiting on religious or medical waivers, and those who did not put in waiver requests could not be separated due to pending legal action.
However, the DCNF confirmed that the Army, at the very least, continued to say that anyone wishing to join the service — a group that includes both West Point cadets and new officers and enlistees — must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination late into February.
When the DCNF reached out on Wednesday, the U.S. Military Academy’s public affairs office said “the policy is that individuals seeking accession into the Army must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19″ in accordance with Army Directive 2022-2.
In their letter, Banks and Waltz asked for clarification on the accessions policy and pressed the Army for answers on when its leaders planned to rescind Army Directive 2022-2.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks sent a message to senior Pentagon leadership on Friday, giving them until March 17 to eliminate all COVID-19 vaccine requirements for service members.
“DOD Component policies, directives, and guidance have not been operative since the January 10, 2023, memorandum was issued, regardless of the status of the DoD Component conforming guidance,” the memo reads. “DOD Component heads shall formally rescind any such policies, directives, and guidance as soon as possible, if they have not done so already.”
Following the Pentagon’s instruction Friday, the Army officially ended its COVID-19 policies.
The Army memo dated Friday reinforced the end of administrative discharges and travel restrictions based on COVID-19 vaccination status, halted the review of vaccine exemption requests and purged negative marks on servicemembers’ records.
It also confirmed that the vaccine was no longer required for accessions, nullifying Army Directive 2022-2, which initiated the discharge process for soldiers who refused the COVID-19 vaccine and affirmed the vaccine requirement for both current and prospective recruits.
Wokeness has harmed recruitment, retention and morale and wasted time and tax dollars. Now the Biden DoD is using PR tricks to defend its politicization of our military. Shameful! @michaelgwaltz https://t.co/a8w6qBEZo0
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) February 23, 2023
The Army is the last of the services under DOD authority to officially cancel the mandate.
The Air Force and Space Force rescinded the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Jan. 23 and promised to halt discharges, scrub letters of reprimand and address requests to correct records of those who were discharged, according to a memo from Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall.
On Friday, Kendall issued further orders to remove adverse actions from the records of those who sought exemptions, a separate memo shows.
The Navy and Marine Corps also rescinded vaccine requirements on Jan. 23, according to an all-Navy message, and later in February ruled that a sailor’s vaccination status does not affect his eligibility to deploy on ships.
However, the Army had not formally withdrawn its internal vaccine orders. Instead, it paused discharges for vaccine noncompliance in a Dec. 22 fragmentary order, just before President Joe Biden signed the defense bill into law.
Banks and Waltz, along with other GOP members, argue that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate hurt military recruitment and readiness in 2022.
“Alarm over our military’s readiness is sensible given that 2022 was the single worst year for military recruiting since the transition to an all-volunteer force nearly 50 years ago,” they wrote in the Thursday letter.
The Army did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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