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In a recent viral video, a senior airman in the Air Force asks viewers to help find jobs for service members leaving the military because they refuse to take the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine.
The unidentified senior airman, who posted her video on TikTok on Sept. 16, speculated that “a lot of the military is about to take an administrative discharge” for refusing the vaccine, which means they’ll be out of a job and presumably in need of work.
“Some people are doing it for medical reasons, some people are doing it for personal reasons, beliefs, whatever it may be, it’s about to suck,” the airman said. “What I’m looking for right now is if you’re an employer or you know employers that will undoubtedly employ us, a lot of us are looking at discharge and we weren’t expecting this so we have no idea what to plan for and I’m sure a lot of people are trying to plan for their future right now.”
Each of the military branches have established deadlines by which active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve troops must be vaccinated for COVID-19. After the deadline passes, service members could face disciplinary action if they are still not vaccinated. Until then, the military services are not expected to separate troops who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, a defense official told Task & Purpose.
The Department of the Air Force’s deadline is Nov. 2 for active-duty airmen and Guardians and Dec. 2 for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has repeatedly said that commanders have “a range of tools available to them, short of using the Uniform Code of Military Justice, short of disciplinary action,” to respond to troops who refuse to be vaccinated.
Those measures could include administrative separation and nonjudicial punishment, Anthony Kuhn, a managing partner at the Tully Rinckey law firm, said previously.
“The command would have to determine whether or not they want to court-martial the individual,” Kuhn, chair of Tully Rinckey’s military law practice group said in an Aug. 12 story. “But there’s a lot of money and a lot of resources that are spent on a court-martial, so the commands are less likely to do that.”
The airman did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but the video received nearly 279,000 likes and nearly 36,000 comments on TikTok, several of which offered the airman jobs and recommendations.
“When do you want to start? There are so many of us that can use your skills,” wrote one commenter.
“I’m a fence contractor, if anyone is in Florida I’ll put them to work,” wrote another.
An Air Force spokesperson declined to comment on Monday about the TikTok video. No information about how many airmen and Guardians have refused to get vaccinated was immediately available. While service members can apply for religious and medical exemptions from getting vaccinated for COVID, the Defense Department has made it clear that it expects most troops to get the shots.
Service members who apply for religious exemptions will be counseled by a military physician and their commanders to make sure they understand how their refusal to get vaccinated will affect both them and their teammates, including how not getting vaccinated “may adversely affect deployability, assignment or international travel,” Kirby told reporters on Aug. 11.
In August, Task & Purpose reported that troops with medical conditions that prevent them from getting the COVID-19 vaccination could face medical separation because the Defense Department is treating vaccination as a readiness issue.
It is up to each major command commander to determine if airmen or Guardians will receive a religious exemption, Air Force officials told Task & Purpose. Those who are denied exemptions can appeal to the Air Force Surgeon General.
So far, it is hard to say whether service members are facing difficulties applying for medical exemptions from getting COVID-19 vaccines, said Marc T. Napolitana, an associate with the Tully Rinckey law firm.
“What we do know is that to be granted a medical exemption from the vaccine, you will likely need something from a treating physician expressing concern over a pre-existing condition that might worsen after the vaccine, or a predisposition that might cause the onset of a medical condition after the vaccine is administered,” Napolitana said. “We also know that some service members have had a hard time actually scheduling those appointments and evaluations with military medical professionals, so they have turn to civilian professionals. Everything is still developing and unfolding in front of us, so success rate remains unknown.”
Airmen and Guardians will not be exempt from getting vaccinated just because they have an approved retirement or separation date, according to the Department of the Air Force’s mandatory vaccination guidelines.
“Any refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, absent an approved exemption or accommodation, may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ),” read the guidelines. “Military commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under the UCMJ.”
Over the course of eight videos, the airman explained to viewers how she came to the decision to not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Though it was not clear what unit the airman serves with, she said she joined the branch four years ago under a six year contract and that she loves the military, had never been in trouble, and had even been selected for promotion to staff sergeant in a few months. The airman said that she had tried to take the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but broke down in tears when she arrived at the vaccination facility.
The reason, the airman explained, was partly due to her beliefs and also partly due to her medical history. In a Sept. 15 video, she claimed she had previously gotten a required vaccination while in uniform and suffered migraines and headaches because of it. When she and her husband lined up to take the vaccine on Sept. 14, the airman claimed she “started bawling” and hyperventilating “just because literally everything I’ve lived through for the past few years,” she said. “I don’t want to do it again and I don’t want it to get worse.”
The airman claimed that she applied for a medical exemption, but the application was denied, she said. After a few days of struggling with the decision, she eventually decided to decline the vaccine, and notified her command, the airman said.
“This weight that was really heavy on my shoulders, it is gone, and I am so so happy with my decision,” the airman said in the Sept. 25 video.
The decision may have been made a little easier by the many commenters who offered her jobs or recommendations in response to her Sept. 16 video. Meanwhile, her number of followers grew from what she described as “like no followers,” in her first video on Sept. 14 to 60,200 by the time this story was published.
“Stand strong, stand firm in what you believe in and especially if it’s related to medical,” she said earlier this month. “Make sure you’re doing what’s good for your mental health, because let me tell you how stressed I’ve been and how it’s not been worth it.”
The video marks the latest viral instance in which a service member has either raised concerns about mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, or suggested that they will leave the military rather than get vaccinated.
Earlier this month, Army Lt. Col. Paul Hague claimed that he would resign his commission just short of retirement, saying that he believed that mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations were an “unlawful, unethical, immoral, and tyrannical order.”
Recently, Navy Cmdr. J.H. Furman, a foreign area officer assigned to the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations office in Washington, D.C., appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson where he claimed that COVID-19 vaccines posed a strategic threat to the Navy.