Unvaccinated soldiers affected by a U.S. Army order restricting their official travel have told The Epoch Times that their careers have been severely impacted.
The directives also apply to those in the process of learning the fate of their request for religious accommodation from the vaccine mandate.
One FRAGO dated June 16 read: “UNVACCINATED SOLDIERS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR OFFICIAL TRAVEL WITHOUT PRIOR-APPROVAL FROM THE UNDER SECRETARY OF THE ARMY.”
The soldiers’ units are responsible for submitting requests to the under secretary. And unless they can obtain “prior approval” from the under secretary, it appears a line has been drawn in the sand, demanding that unvaccinated soldiers get vaccinated or risk promotion to a higher rank, career advancement, and other valuable training opportunities.
Chief warrant officer (CW2) Michael Davenport, a 16-year veteran of the Army, told The Epoch Times that he considers his career “basically at a halt.” Having once served as a U.S. Army infantry soldier with the 1st Ranger Battalion, Davenport assumed a role akin to copilot of an Apache advanced attack helicopter in 2019. As a result of the Army’s travel restrictions, Davenport is unable to partake in temporary duty travel to attend military schools and training that would advance his career. “If I can’t progress in education and training,” he said, “I’m going to fall far behind and potentially not be promoted at the next promotion board.”
As “a fairly new pilot,” Davenport said, he is not yet a pilot in command (PIC). His religious objection to the military’s vaccine mandate since September 2021 may cost him the PIC designation. Because he is unvaccinated and unable to travel, he has been prevented from participating in training with the Combat Training Center. “For example, they made me the rear detachment officer in charge while others participated in the training,” he said.
While he submitted a waiver and exception to policy (ETP), Davenport said “it came back denied because of the travel restrictions." In fact, his unit “sent up the ETP to the Under Secretary for others” to no avail.
He said, “I’m missing out on training that would certify me to go on a deployment or a rotation to another theatre, [as well as] the required hours [of flight time] needed to become pilot in command.” He described the experience as “detrimental” to his career.
In addition, Davenport’s unit was recently up for a European Command (EUCOM) rotation. An ETP to deploy with his unit is still under consideration. But rather than receiving confirmation whether he would deploy with those he has flown with since June 2020, he said, “they moved me to a non-deploying sister battalion within the brigade while others have begun the EUCOM rotation.”
Losing Experience Is the ResultThe Epoch Times also spoke to Sergeant First Class Robbie Barnes (a pseudonym) who has served 20 years in the U.S. Army. After returning from an overseas assignment, Barnes requested religious accommodation in October 2021. “I’ve requested multiple times to find out its status, but I haven’t heard anything,” he said. This, he suspects, is because he is close to retirement. “I feel like they’re just trying to see if they can wait me out to retirement,” he explained.
As a result of his religious objection to the vaccine, he said people have made “snarky” comments. “It’s basically the projection of a feeling that you’re not really of any value until you get the shot,” he said, admitting that “this has been kind of difficult.”
Barnes has not only missed out on deploying overseas again, but also on a few training events and career-enhancing advancing opportunities. “And there’s not a chance in hell these things may change any time soon,” he said.
“I’m now basically stagnant in my career at a time when I would need to be competitive for promotability if I were to not retire, to basically put myself at the tip of the spear to remain competitive,” he said. According to Barnes, senior leadership and those with experience the Army should draw from are “being pushed out of the Army.”
Barnes questions the ability of new recruits to contribute something substantial to the Army when senior leadership who refuse the vaccine mandate are being threatened and pushed out of the service. New recruits could miss out on learning all the longstanding skills and abilities necessary to take on an adversary, he said. “Given the current climate around the world, if something were to happen, we’ve pushed out all our experienced people,” he said, warning that “if we go into a large-scale conflict now, we are going to struggle.”
“I think that every time a Democratic administration comes in, they come in with the intent to shrink the military,” Barnes said. “But today, it appears they are trying to shrink the military and make it appear to be our fault for our choosing to leave, [while also] trying to make sure that they have a military force they can control in a better fashion than one with people who are willing to push back against the unlawfulness of a vaccine mandate, for example.”
The views of Davenport and Barnes do not reflect the position of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army. Neither the Pentagon nor the U.S. Army responded to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.