Three cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy who have rejected the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be commissioned as military officers when they graduate, the academy said.
Academy spokesman Dean Miller said in a statement that the three seniors in question “will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated,” although they will graduate with bachelor’s degrees.
A fourth cadet, who was previously among those refusing to comply with the academy’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, has since decided to take the shot in order to become an officer, Miller said.
The military academies typically require students to repay the cost of their education if they leave during their junior or senior year and don’t complete the program. The final decision is made by the secretary of each military branch.
The costs could be as much as $200,000, depending on the circumstances. In 2015, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point ordered a cadet to pay $226,662 in tuition costs after discharging him over multiple infractions, including smuggling alcohol.
The U.S. Air Force, which so far is the only military branch that blocks cadets from being commissioned as officers for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, has yet to decide whether to require the unvaccinated trio to pay for their education, Miller said.
The announcement came days after Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), whose congressional district covers Colorado Springs, wrote in protest of the possibility that the four cadets might not be allowed to graduate because of vaccine refusal.
“I was extremely disappointed to hear that the United States Air Force Academy is planning to deny these four cadets the opportunity to graduate and serve our nation because of their request to uphold their tightly held religious beliefs,” Lamborn wrote in a letter to the academy’s superintendent.
“America was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which encompasses protecting the religious rights of the individual. That includes those who put on the uniform and volunteer to serve our nation. It is imperative that our military leaders uphold the constitutional rights of these cadets.”
The Air Force’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 25. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all military service members and academy students last year, will be featured as a keynote speaker.
“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our Service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself,” Austin said in August 2021 in a memo announcing the vaccine mandate.
As of April, about 3,400 troops had been involuntarily separated from service due to vaccination noncompliance, the Military Times reported. About 70 percent of them have received general discharges, with the rest receiving honorable discharges.