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GOP Letter to Army Secretary: End Vaccine Travel Rule

Washington Report

Fifty-one Republicans in Congress are demanding the Army secretary end a policy restricting official travel for the service’s troops unvaccinated against COVID-19.

The policy mandates all unvaccinated Army soldiers must receive permission from the service’s under secretary before officially traveling.

“This new directive will unfairly deny soldiers — who simply followed the tenets of their deeply held religious beliefs or guidance of their doctor — vital career opportunities, effectively relegating them as second-class soldiers,” the message to Christine E. Wormuth reads.

“This political maneuvering will have impacts on our country’s military readiness and the trust and morale of our premier fighting force,” the letter released last Thursday adds.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, assembled the GOP House and Senate lawmakers.

The group argues the rule hurts Army recruiting and retention during one of the toughest military talent pools in decades.

“Policies like these can contribute to significant recruiting difficulty, compounding the Army’s struggle to meet recruiting objectives for FY22,” the letter states.

“If the Army continues to refuse to recognize the strength of natural immunity, while enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and applying these shockingly aggressive measures targeting unvaccinated soldiers, we risk damaging our country’s military readiness for years to come,” it concludes.

“We request that you immediately remove this unfair burden from unvaccinated soldiers and reverse this harmful guidance.”

Currently, unvaccinated Army personnel must ask Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo for official travel permission.

The policy impacts all unvaccinated Army soldiers, including those with religious and medical exemptions.

Last week’s letter is the latest Republican effort aimed at reducing the military’s COVID-19 constraints.

In an Aug. 31 letter, 14 House Republicans demanded Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III scrap the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In July, 51 House Republicans sent Austin a letter asking he reconsider the controversial measure.

Austin required all military personnel, including the National Guard, to become fully or partially vaccinated against COVID-19 in 2021.

In a July memo, Wormuth and Gen. James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff, blamed the military’s recent talent woes on factors including COVID-19.

“America’s military faces the most challenging recruiting environment since the All-Volunteer Force was established in 1973, driven in part by the post-COVID labor market, intense competition with the private sector, and a declining number of young Americans interested in uniformed service,” the memo says.

The memo estimated the Army’s active-component end strength once fiscal year 2022 ends as approximately 466,400 troops.

The document predicted the total could fall between roughly 445,000 and 452,000 by fiscal year 2023’s end.

As of Aug. 12, 89% of the Army National Guard was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with another 1.6% partially vaccinated.

By that date, the Army Guard had approved 8,254 temporary or permanent COVID-19 vaccine exemptions.

Eight Army Guardsmen received permanent medical exemptions, while zero permanent religious exemptions were granted.

— By Mark Hensch