Unvaccinated Navy Officer Restricted From Official Travel, Forced to Live Away from Husband for 1.5 Years

By J.M. Phelps
J.M. Phelps
J.M. Phelps
Freelance reporter
J.M. Phelps is a writer and researcher of both Islamist and Chinese threats. He's on Twitter at @JMPhelpsLC
September 15, 2022 Updated: September 15, 2022

After a few unsuccessful attempts to meet highly competitive requirements to pursue a specialized career in the U.S. Navy Lt. Mary Smith (a pseudonym) finds herself stuck at a training installation for quite a bit longer than anticipated. An expected six-month stay, she says, has turned into a year and a half.

Smith spoke to The Epoch Times using a pseudonym, for fear of reprisal.

With a new home and property in another state, Smith has been unable to live with her husband of two years as they’ve been separated for three times the anticipated length of time she predicted. “We’re newlyweds and we’ve only lived together about four or five months,” she said.  

While there are different paths for her career to pursue away from the current training facility, including a more general assignment or a different specialization, Smith—like many others—is unable to go on official travel because of her vaccination status.

NAVADMIN 130/22, a Navy-specific administrative message, states, “Individuals who are not fully vaccinated, or who decline to provide information about their vaccination status, are limited to only mission-critical official travel, both domestic and international.”

A response to Smith’s religious accommodation request has remained unanswered since December 2021. She is concerned that the court injunction that prevents the Navy from separating those who applied for religious waivers will further delay matters as she finds herself stuck waiting. “Although I am grateful for the injunction, I still cannot be with my husband,” she said.

Because Smith is unvaccinated, the Navy has refused to allow for a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to be closer to her husband and family. “I’m able to take leave once a month to visit my husband and family, but I’m not allowed to PCS—and that simply doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Smith submitted an exemption to policy (ETP) request to transfer in early June but the ETP “has been sitting on the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ desk for a few months,” she said, adding that she has “no idea what the Navy is going to do with me.” She has been asking for updates weekly with the only response being “you will hear something soon.” For Smith, “soon is not good enough.” She would like “the courtesy and respect of a timely response” since she has always been expected to provide the same.

While Smith is unable to transfer, she considers it ironic that her current position has her directly involved with readiness issues, while her religious denial letter states “a waiver of immunizations would have a predictable and detrimental effect on your readiness and the readiness of the Sailors who serve alongside you in both operational and nonoperational (including training) environments.”

And all the while, Smith said her training environment puts her in very close contact with other sailors. “Many of these individuals are vaccinated and still get sick, while I have never gotten sick,” she said.

Smith said the experience has caused “a ton of undue stress” on her marriage and has taken a toll on her mental health. Awaiting a response from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), she said, “the military is continuing to wrongfully discriminate against the unvaccinated based on our religious beliefs.” 

According to Smith, “the majority of the public thinks this discrimination has ended.” She explained that “many of us are still prevented from doing certain things, like pursuing PCS or deployment, even though the vaccinated are still getting COVID and having to quarantine.” And this, she said hinders the mission of the Navy.

Smith said she chose to speak out, not because of her own predicament, but because “the myriad of policies that have stemmed from the evolving target known as COVID has had tremendous impacts on thousands of service members’ progression, training, and opportunities.”

“I hope people can come to realize how much freedom we are losing as Americans and how far we are falling away from our Constitution, which I have sworn to support and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Smith said.

In addition to OPNAV not offering the status of her ETP request, Smith said congressional inquiries have not helped her situation. “The response to my first complaint in June basically told me what I already knew—that my ETP request was pending,” she said. A second inquiry was sent on Sept. 13, asking for help getting a response to her ETP request.

Smith emphasized that her views do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy. The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations did not return an inquiry from The Epoch Times.

J.M. Phelps
Freelance reporter
J.M. Phelps is a writer and researcher of both Islamist and Chinese threats. He's on Twitter at @JMPhelpsLC