Army Calls Back Ousted Unvaccinated Soldiers, It’s Not Going Well

In response to an inquiry by The Epoch Times, the United States Army admitted that the number of soldiers who accepted the invitation to return to service after being separated for refusing to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is dismally small.

“As part of the overall COVID mandate rescission process mandated by Congress, the Army this month mailed the letters to approximately 1,900 individuals who had previously been separated,” U.S. Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said in an emailed statement.

“The letter provides information to former servicemembers on how to request a correction of their military records,” he stated further, adding that “the Army Active Component separated 1,903 individuals for COVID vaccine refusal.”

He also confirmed that, as of Sept. 9, only 19 of those 1,903 soldiers “have rejoined the Active Component.”
The letter, shared widely on social media, informs soldiers who were separated from service over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that they now have an opportunity to “request a correction to military personnel records, including records regarding the characterization of discharge.”

In the letter’s closing, “individuals who desire to apply to return to service” were encouraged to contact their local Army recruiting office.

Recruiting Crisis

Prior to the vaccine mandate, the Army reported meeting recruitment goals for 2020 and 2021.

However, while the Department of Defense (DOD) announced that the Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Space Force met or exceeded their recruitment goals for 2022, the Army attained only 75.84 percent of its target.

For 2023, the DOD announced that the Army again fell short of its goal, attaining only 77.16 percent of its target. While the Navy, Air Force, and Space Force also fell short of their recruitment goals—attaining 75.4 percent, 85.67 percent, and 99.56 percent of their goals, respectively—the Marines exceeded their goal by 0.64 percent.
As reported by Military Times in March, roughly 8,300 troops in the military were discharged from active and reserve components between late 2021 and early 2023 for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Those who were involuntarily separated from service received a general discharge. While those who left voluntarily received an honorable discharge, their record reflects that they left because they refused to comply with the mandate.

The difference between a general discharge and an honorable discharge is significant.

According to the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, “Separation may occur at the expiration of a definite term of service, or when a service member elects, or is required, to leave military service, including for medical, administrative, disciplinary, or punitive reasons.”

“A discharge includes dismissal and separation or release from active or inactive military status, and actions that accomplish a complete severance of all military status.”

As explained by Lifeline for Vets, an honorable discharge “is the only discharge that doesn’t have a negative impact on a veteran’s benefits.”

A general discharge “indicates some non-judicial action because of behavior or a failure to meet military standards,” and “takes some VA benefits off the table, including the GI Bill.”

In interviews with The Epoch Times, former soldiers and a recruiting expert share their response to the mandate and the letter.

‘A Matter of Life and Death’

On Aug. 24, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum saying he “determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”

On Sept. 14, 2021, the Army confirmed its intent “to comply with the Secretary of Defense’s order requiring all Service members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19” by “using the FDA approved Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine.”

U.S. Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle stated at the time that “this is quite literally a matter of life and death for our Soldiers, their families, and the communities in which we live.”

In early 2023, the military rescinded the vaccine mandate, and in mid-November, the Army mailed letters to 1,903 soldiers it lost because of the mandate.

‘I Feel Betrayed’

Sgt. 1st Class John Delarm served in the U.S. Army for 17 years and 10 months as a 13B cannon crew member, an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, a jump master, a drill sergeant, and a platoon sergeant before being involuntarily separated from service for refusing to comply with the Army’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Sgt. 1st Class John Delarm in a photo taken Feb. 23, 2021, for Unit Records at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Courtesy of John Delarm)

Mr. Delarm hasn’t received his letter yet.

“I guess it’s in the mail,” he told The Epoch Times.

As he waits to get his letter, he expresses feeling torn. He loved the Army, but he now feels betrayed.

“The Army itself was really great to me through my entire career so I had no complaints until the mandate came out,” he explained. “Then everything turned around and went upside down. It’s kind of like Stockholm Syndrome. As soon as the mandate came out the Army basically abused you. They violated U.S. Code 1107 Alpha.”

According to U.S. code, when a product is “authorized for emergency use,” an individual must be given the option to “accept or refuse administration of a product.” This rule “may be waived only by the President only if the President determines, in writing, that complying with such requirement is not in the interests of national security.”

In August 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of “certain biological products during the COVID-19 pandemic” following “the February 4, 2020, determination by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) that there is a public health emergency that has a significant potential to affect national security.”

Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act authorizes the FDA “to strengthen public health protections against biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological agents,” and “allows FDA to authorize the use of an unapproved medical product or an unapproved use of an approved medical product in certain situations.”

Mr. Delarm described his feelings about the situation.

“They broke their DOD instruction, their Army regulations, their values, and everything they stand for,” he asserted, “and with this letter, they didn’t even apologize. So I bring up Stockholm Syndrome because it’s like, ‘We abused you. We kicked you out. We treated you like garbage. But hey, it’s OK. Come back.’ I feel betrayed. I feel stabbed in the back. I had two years and two months before I would retire but I got kicked out and lost my retirement. It’s a slap in the face.”

Asked if he would consider returning, Mr. Delarm said he would only do so if there were some kind of accountability.

“The military needs a cleansing and I am not going back until accountability happens,” he insisted. “I will not go back under the same leadership that did this.”

‘Insulted’

John Frankman is a former Special Forces Green Beret who was on active duty for eight years. He chose to leave voluntarily rather than get the COVID-19 vaccination. Because he refused the vaccination, his travel was restricted, he missed several deployment opportunities, and he lost a chance to teach a course in philosophy and ethics at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

With all of these restrictions, he was unable to advance his career. Because the majority of those who left involuntarily received general discharges, an attorney advised him to leave voluntarily rather than risk marring his record with a general discharge after inevitably having his religious exemption and the subsequent appeal denied.

John Frankman, former Army Green Beret, parachutes over Eloy, Ariz., in July 2021. (Courtesy of John Frankman)

“My religious exemption was pending for 14 months and during that time I couldn’t do anything a Green Beret really needs to do to advance my career,” he said.

“The shot itself was a coordinated assault and propaganda effort by elites to grow in power and a giant failure of common sense in world courage on the part of the military,” he asserted. “It endangered many lives just for their benefit.”

“The letter is an out-of-touch response showing their absolute hubris,” he insisted. “It was frustrating. It was insulting.”

Like Mr. Delarm, Mr. Frankman admitted that he “had it pretty good” during his time in the Army and that “leadership at the battalion level and below” was helpful in trying to facilitate his objectives for career advancement. However, it was those at the command level who were issuing the mandates and punishing those who didn’t comply.

He described the “segregation mentality” that settled into the Army, where those who were unvaccinated were told to wear a red (unvaccinated) or green (vaccinated) wristband during their training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

“Everyone saw how service members were treated,” he said, suggesting that those who witnessed that treatment as well as those who went through it are now hesitant to consider enlisting or returning.

Poor Tactical Communication

David Eustice is a 26-year veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard and the founder and CEO of Military Recruiting Experts. He was an active guard reservist who worked in recruiting for about a decade.

“That letter has received a lot of negativity,” Mr. Eustice told The Epoch Times.

While “practical,” he said the impersonal approach of a “Dear Former Service Member” form letter “was not the best idea.”

“If you just put ‘Dear,’ and what their rank was with their full name, you’re referencing them by a title they held and it draws them back into service. They’re probably thinking about being back in. People who leave the military are always thinking about being back in. It’s probably been a minute since they were called ‘Staff Sergeant,’ or a ‘Specialist.’ If that letter was a recruiting effort, it was poor tactical communication. It was a missed opportunity. If we’re really trying to recruit people we should use their name.”

Regarding the lack of an apology, Mr. Eustice said, “It’s not surprising to me.”

“The COVID issue is very political and the COVID vaccine is even more political,” he said, explaining that vaccines are nothing new in the military.

Before COVID-19, vaccines weren’t “a political thing.” Soldiers received flu shots on an annual basis.

“But COVID became different, societally different,” he said. “So it’s not surprising that the military would not communicate any regret about it.”

“In my opinion, that letter was not about recruiting,” he added. “If it was about recruiting, they would have had the person’s name, their address, and specifics about which recruiter they could go see. With their approach, I don’t think they have a whole lot of expectations that they’re going to get a lot of people back.”

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