Military Quietly Walks Back COVID Vaccine Restrictions On Active Duty Troops

marine corps vaccine exemption
Fort Hunter Liggett, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In an unusual attempt at casually changing course, some branches of the military are rolling back some of their previous COVID-19 vaccine restrictions and punishments.

Also, there have been some exciting developments in the courts for service members who have fought back against what they believe are unfair practices and punishment for their religious exemption requests to the vaccine.

With low recruitment levels and tensions rising worldwide, this subtle shift in the COVID vaccine tide for our men and women in uniform could be welcome news to national security. So let’s look at what the military branches have been up to.

To The Shores of Tripoli

First up: the United States Marine Corps. A branch I am personally rather fond of, these men and women take the fight to the enemy quite literally from the land, air, AND sea, proving their versatility and lethality battle after battler over the years.

The Marines have rolled back some punishments associated with those Devil Dogs who have sought a religious exemption to the COVID vaccination. These punishments included involuntary terminations and delaying promotions.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘involuntary termination,’ it is discharging or removal from the military despite that member’s desire to continue to serve.

This change of heart in the Marines Corps comes after guidance from a Florida U.S. Federal District Court came out stating:

“Marine Corps will not enforce any order to accept COVID-19 vaccination, administratively separate, or retaliate against Marines in the class for asserting statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”

It seems odd this guidance even had to come down as I always felt it was common knowledge that the federal government couldn’t punish or, as the RFRA states, “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” 

RELATED: Official Poll: What’s the ONE, Single Most Important Issue To You in 2022?

Anchors Aweigh

The Marine Corps generally step in line with whatever the United States Navy does, so it probably isn’t surprising that it dialed back its punishments shortly after the Navy did the same. The Navy made waves when 35 SEALs filed a lawsuit regarding their treatment after requesting religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine.

I’ve had the distinct honor to serve and deploy with Navy SEALs, and I have to tell you, there aren’t a whole lot of other groups of bad mama jamas that you’d rather fight your battles with than these bubbas. Of course, this could just be my opinion, but you’d always rather have more SEALs than less.

The lawsuit inevitably encompassed other sailors who had experienced the same restrictions and punishments post exemption filing, including sailors who had been moved to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower while their exemptions were reviewed. However, what caught the attention of lawmakers and probably helped the rollback of punishments was reports of substandard living on USS “Ike.”

Complaints of sewage-backed-up toilets and worms living in and thriving in the standing water rightly enraged members of Congress, including Oklahoma Senator James Lankford. Senator Lankford wrote Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding answers, stating:

“At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of care for the service members you lead. At worst, it demonstrates an active disdain for and hostility toward them.”


RELATED: Never-Before-Seen Video Of Navy’s Disastrous Red Hill Fuel Leak In Hawaii Raises Accountability Questions

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Many of you know, my heart belongs to the Air Force. Twenty years aiming high will do that to you. I had reported back in June about a lawsuit surrounding Air Force members who had filed religious exemptions.

Yet another win was announced for military members who came within this lawsuit as a federal appeals court denied the Air Force’s attempt to overturn protections afforded Airmen from discipline. The circuit court wrote:

“The plaintiffs have contended throughout this litigation that even the handful of exemptions that the Department (United States Air Force) has approved were granted only to service members who were nearing the end of their service term and thus eligible for an administrative exemption anyway.”

Essentially the argument is that the only exemptions the Air Force has been giving are for those who qualified for other than religious exemptions, due to pending retirements and separations. That sure seems pretty hinky to me.

RELATED: Air Force Members File Suit After Being Rejected Religious Exemption From COVID Vaccine

Color Me Not Surprised

Perhaps the most interesting hidden nugget in the news feeds lately is that the Pentagon has discovered that it is possible that maybe the military hasn’t been administering religious exemptions according to standards. You don’t say?

The Pentagon Inspector General’s office said there is a “potential noncompliance” with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions. In a letter from Pentagon acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell to the Secretary of Defense, he says that he has found:

“…concerning denials of religious liberty accommodation requests from COVID-19 vaccination requirements.”

The only service that, from what I can tell, hasn’t rolled anything back or had any litigation wins is the Army. In fact, in July, it was discovered that the Army had issued orders restricting official travel of unvaccinated soldiers without prior approval from none other than Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo.

These orders included those soldiers with approved religious exemptions. All of those who haven’t served this might see this as nonconsequential, but that is not the case. 

Essentially forcing soldiers to get approval from one of the highest ranking members of the United States Army to travel sets an ultimatum gauntlet for the soldier: Get the vaccine, or don’t promote. Traveling on official orders allows soldiers to deploy, attend mandatory training, and do other activities that all feed into promotions.

It seems like there might be some real religious discrimination practices happening within the military establishment. So perhaps they should take a knee and examine this phenomenon in a cleverly named down day.

RELATED: Military Recruitment Hitting Record Lows, Raising Questions About Viability Of ‘All Volunteer’ Force


The argument behind COVID vaccine mandates in the military surrounds readiness. Essentially if you aren’t protected against a disease, you put your fellow brothers and sisters in arms at risk and are a liability. 

Generally speaking, I get it. However, the ability to file religious exemptions to vaccines is not new in the military. If the services are not practicing the same procedures to review and approve as they would any other vaccine, we have a problem. 

We shouldn’t be surprised that we have a recruitment problem when we don’t uphold the rights of the very men and women who raise their right hand to swear to protect and defend for the rest of us.

Now is the time to support and share the sources you trust.
The Political Insider ranks #3 on Feedspot’s “100 Best Political Blogs and Websites.”

USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

Mentioned in this article::