The number of active-duty U.S. military personnel declining to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by their prescribed deadlines is as high as 40,000, with new Army data showing that, days ahead of its cutoff, 3 percent of soldiers either have rejected President Biden’s mandate or sought a long-shot exemption.
While overall the vast majority of service members are fully vaccinated, military analysts have characterized the number of refusals and holdouts as a troubling indicator in a rigid, top-down culture where decision-making often is predicated on the understanding that the troops will do as they are told. It also suggests the nation’s divisive politics have influenced a small but significant segment of the Defense Department, historically an apolitical institution.
Military leaders have few options to address the dissent other than to hope that, as waiver requests are denied, more troops will choose to fall in line. The alternative, the Pentagon has said, is to purge the ranks of those failing to meet requirements, though some of those roughly 40,000 service members opting out had already planned to leave the military.
That tens of thousands of troops are opting out raises questions about the state of military culture, which fundamentally survives on compliance, said Katherine L. Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.
“It goes against military values of following through with lawful orders,” she said. “It raises questions about the posture of the services in other uncomfortable situations,” she added, like large-scale military operations where hesitating to act on orders in some situations can be disastrous.
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