U.S. Navy SEALs are reportedly facing intense pressure and backlash from the service branch for seeking religious and other exemptions to the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Sources told Fox News this week that a growing number of the elite warriors who are asking for a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate are being threatened and even harassed into submitting in some cases.
To that point, the Navy has issued a number of new directives laying out severe punishment for vaccine refusals that include pay cuts, demotions, and a travel ban for SEALs and other personnel.
The network went on to report that for some SEALs currently attempting to receive a religious exemption to the jab, “the process is nearly impossible to successfully complete to get a waiver,” citing its sources.
What’s more, according to a memorandum posted online, the Navy may also “seek recoupment of applicable bonuses, special and incentive pays, and the cost of training and education for service members refusing the vaccine.”
First Liberty Institute general counsel Michael Berry, a Marine Corps reserve lieutenant colonel who is representing about 34 active-duty SEAL team members as well as two reservists, told Fox News that the new directives from the Navy are First Amendment infringements and are otherwise illegal.
“Purging our military of its elite servicemembers is detrimental to national security,” he said. “Doing so because the Commander in Chief refuses to accommodate their religious convictions is abhorrent to the Constitution. Their years of experience and leadership in service to our nation is immeasurable and irreplaceable.”
He added: “Remove a SEAL from special warfare, reduce his salary, and force him to repay his training is purely vindictive and punitive. And it’s illegal. They have nothing to do with a virus.”
The directive threatening to recoup SEAL training dollars comes from the Navy’s COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA). And it comes on the heels of an Oct. 6 directive from the service banning all official and non-official travel for Navy service members and their families.
Fox News reported that another internal document says that as special operations (SO) duty personnel, SEALs who do not get vaccinated based solely on personal or religious objections will be summarily “disqualified” from said duty.
The disqualification would not apply to any SEAL team member who is seeking a medical exemption from taking the vaccine, the network adds.
Last week, the Navy told active-duty service members they have until Nov. 14 to get the second dose of the vaccine; reservists have until Dec. 14.
Fox News went on to cite an incident involving a supervising officer and a SEAL who said he had religious objections to taking the vaccine that appears to run afoul of the Navy’s official statement that any member can seek such an exemption if they choose to do so.
A source familiar with the incident said that when the SEAL informed his commanding officer of his intention to seek the religious exemption, the officer responded that the SEAL would have to surrender his Special Warfare pin which is known as a “Trident.” When those are revoked, the team member is removed from the SEAL community and sent back to the fleet as a regular sailor, even if the individual has years of special operator status.
Lt. Cdr. Patricia Kreuzberger told the network she couldn’t speak to that particular incident but reiterated that service-wide, sailors and officers are permitted to seek a religious exemption to the mandate.
“Mandatory vaccination for our service members is a lawful order that maximizes our operational effectiveness. To be world-wide deployable, Naval personnel must be medically qualified which includes being up-to-date on required vaccinations. Servicemembers are entitled to seek religious exemptions and those requests will be considered in keeping with current Navy policy,” she said, adding that the Navy is considering exemptions on a “case-by-case” basis.
Berry said he is planning to file a complaint soon on behalf of his clients.
“SEALs have invested their lives into serving this nation, dedicating years of their lives and millions of taxpayer dollars in training to be the most elite fighting force on the face of the earth. Yet, the Commander-in-Chief would simply kick them out of the Navy, send them to jail, and force them to repay the nation for their training—all for simply declining a vaccine,” he noted.
In an email to Lead Stories for a “fact-check,” Travis Callaghan, a public affairs action officer for the Chief of Naval Personnel said of the recoupment: “The Navy recoups costs in the circumstance of graduate education programs such as the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program. The Navy is exploring the potential of recouping similar training costs in other specialized programs.”
Pressed further, Callaghan added, “The policy applies to all Navy Service Members, which the NAVADMIN defines as ‘Active-duty service members and service members in the Selected Reserve only’. It does not specify any specific communities or groups.”
But as the fact-check noted, those statements did not exclude SEALs, either.
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