Salvo 11.17.2023 7 minutes

The Army’s Two-Faced Covid Memo


Rebuilding trust within the Army will take serious effort.

This month the Army quietly released a memorandum that circulated through its recruiting command a week earlier, finally rescinding its tyrannical Covid mandates. Titled “Message on Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate Recission,” this policy change is attributed to the Department of the Army G1, which is the equivalent of the service branch’s personnel division. The memo halts involuntary separations, orders the removal of negative Covid-associated information in soldiers’ personnel files, bans future punitive action related to Covid shot refusals, and states that soldiers kicked out over the shot mandate can now seek to have their general discharges upgraded to honorable, and even to pursue reinstatement. In short, it announces a total elimination of the Covid shot mandate and the cessation of harassment directed toward those who declined these experimental treatments.

Or does it?

In a corresponding news release, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said, “I am proud of the efforts the Department of the Army has taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all personnel to ensure readiness, facilitate mission accomplishment and protect the force.” Despite having a large cohort of public affairs officials, the nation’s biggest military service cannot get its messaging straight. Would those who upheld their right to be free from medical experimentation still be worthy of contempt if they returned to military service?

One might be curious why the Army is doing an about face on this now, given that its top official clearly has a different perspective from the policy change she’s authorizing. Last month the Army missed its fiscal year 2022 recruiting goals by 10,000, the third consecutive year to have a significant shortfall. In fiscal year 2021, the Army missed its recruiting goal by 25 percent, even after lowering its initial goal for the year and reducing enlistment standards. If this trend holds, the force will have no choice but to cut units, and the heavy load already borne by those currently serving will increase accordingly. As top military officials continue to deny the impact of dragging the Army into progressive social policy advocacy, reality remains unmoved.

The nation’s military has been traditionally staffed by a high percentage of people who come from veteran families. After the way the Army treated its members over Covid and resistance to partisan social orthodoxy, many of those veterans now warn their children and other young people to avoid serving under the current regime, myself included. Officials like Wormuth can hold to the party line all they want, but actions speak volumes. Army messaging is even adjusting from the disastrous “The Calling” campaign about diversity of sexual orientation in the ranks back to the old “Be All That You Can Be” campaign, complete with a return to showing men training for combat instead of showcasing their affinity for DEI.

Senior Army management might be ready to officially surrender their ruthless march against those in the ranks who expect to have their rights respected. But the brass needs to do far more than take a trifling step back toward a problematic baseline before they embarked on an iniquitous loyalty test. Appealing to wronged soldiers who still want to contribute, the memo ends by saying, “Our nation faces many challenges, and developing and employing the skills and talents of prior service members can benefit individual Soldiers and the Army.” That’s true. But the question we must ask is how any of those prior service members could ever again trust an Army that treated them with such disdain for standing up for their convictions.

I was stationed at Fort Leavenworth from the beginning of the Covid shutdown through my recent retirement. Like hundreds of thousands across the force, I lived through the vocational hell that was the Department of Defense’s shot mandate. The Army requires several immunizations and checkups throughout the year to maintain one’s medical readiness. Not one of those came with the coercive force of the Covid mandate. Late on your flu shot? You just get told to take one at your next convenience. Late on a vision check? The same applied. But in 2021 on Fort Leavenworth, proof of the Covid shot was the only path to being able to live an existence that in any way might reflect normal. It became the primary marker of human worth on that base, and at many others.

I’ll never forget the day when my boss learned I was holding off on taking the shot until it became mandatory. The shame broadcast in my direction from his desk was palpable. His attitude reflected the feelings of many others on the base. In a particular meeting I attended one morning, two lieutenant colonels openly talked about how family members who don’t get the shot shouldn’t be allowed to use base facilities, and perhaps shouldn’t even be allowed on the installation.

As it turned out, that same attitude was reflected at the nearest Army installation: Fort Riley. Under the management of Maj. Gen. Douglas Sims, some base facilities were set aside only for the vaccinated. I traveled to Fort Riley for a warfighter exercise in late 2021. First Infantry Division Policy limited unvaccinated visitors to hotel rooms and workplaces. It also restricted access to base morale facilities and the commissary (the base grocery store) to those who had a vaccine card. Friends of mine on Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty) told me of similar policies at their location. A two-class system among military service members was established across much of the force. Hearkening back to biblical language, you were clean or unclean based on your shot status.

Major General Sims’s performance, however, was rewarded. He has since been promoted to lieutenant general and is currently the Director of Operations for the Joint Staff. Would he treat an unvaccinated officer who re-enters the Army with respect in the days to come, or would such a uniformed citizen still be worthy of segregation?

Lt. Gen. Ted Martin commanded the Combined Arms Center during my time assigned to that headquarters. He also instituted a two-class society. Those with the shot could work normally, but those without it had to self-mark by wearing masks. In contrast to his happy-go-lucky brand on Twitter, Martin was ruthless to officers under his command who did not want to take the experimental shot. Officers who awaited answers for their religious exemption requests were pulled out of competition for career enhancing jobs and put into various duties of a menial nature compared to their rank, experience, and capability. For months Martin repeated the talking point that the way back to normal was through masks and shots. He was all too willing to sign career-ending reprimands to castigate officers who had served honorably, people whose families had sacrificed much for the nation. He went on to retire in 2022.

Yet Martin was mild compared to the hostility displayed by Maj. Gen. Donn Hill. Hill was director of the Army University from July 2020 through April 2022. On top of his “Vaccinate for Victory” campaign, Hill in August of 2021 told the entire resident class of the Command and General Staff College on Fort Leavenworth that anyone who did not take the shot was walking around with a loaded gun pointed at anyone they came across. He emphasized that the vaccine was a moral obligation, unlike showing respect for subordinates apparently. Hill went on to be rewarded with the role of commanding general at the U.S. Army’s Security Force Assistance Command.

These are but a few small snapshots of what I experienced during the Army’s Covid totalitarianism. Friends and colleagues from across the force have shared dozens of similar stories with me. No doubt there are thousands more like them. The question is whether those who made such un-American policy decisions can be trusted going forward. Fool me once, shame on you. Unless we get some kind of clear affirmation, it would be unwise for us to assume the current crop of senior military officials has had a sincere change of heart.

If the Army felt true remorse over its actions, the exuberance with which it announced this Covid policy change would match the intensity that accompanies its pushing of pride events each June, or its enthusiasm for the full array of Marxist-inspired events, as well as policy and cultural changes that have become part of the developing transgressive American military tradition. As Wormuth noted in her quote, the institution remains proud of its actions. Only the conditions of a prolonged recruiting crisis and congressional pressure forced its hand.

Though this policy reversal is a step toward sanity, it is far from enough. As I have said before, senior Army officials should apologize for their Covid-related misconduct. Beyond that, they owe a deep reservoir of amends to subordinates whose trust was so casually broken. Those who won’t must be shown the door to civilian life for the sake of the Army’s reputation and the nation’s safety. We must never allow totalitarians to persecute their fellow citizens in our nation’s military ever again. A force that can so easily lose sight of its purpose is one that is rightly viewed through a skeptic’s lens.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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