Each year, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence publishes the Annual Threat Assessment which identifies the greatest threats to America’s national security. Unsurprisingly, the 2021 Assessment highlights China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as America’s preeminent threats. But perhaps our leaders should look closer to home. None other than our own Department of Defense has inflicted more losses to American military strength than any foreign adversary could ever hope to achieve through the nonsensical military vaccine mandate.
Across all the branches of the U.S. military, more than 5,000 service members have been discharged due to their objection to the military vaccine mandate. To put that number in perspective, the military has suffered a greater loss of personnel than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Kicking out thousands of service members because of their religious beliefs is not only devastating to troop morale, but it also harms our national security interests.
President Reagan famously warned us that freedom is not free. His warning is more prescient than we might realize. It costs approximately $15,000 to successfully recruit just one eligible American to join the military. It then costs another $50,000 to $75,000 to train, equip, and prepare one for service, depending on the assigned duty. For those serving in special forces, such as Navy SEALs or Green Berets, the costs skyrocket into the millions of dollars per service member.
According to the Navy, more than 6,000 sailors remain unvaccinated and the Army reports a staggering 60,000 unvaccinated soldiers. If the Pentagon successfully kicks out all of its unvaccinated members, American taxpayers will have spent somewhere between $4.5 and $6 billion on recruiting and training service members who, despite being fully capable, the Pentagon has deemed unworthy to serve. Those figures must actually be doubled in order to recruit and train replacements.
This undermines one of the Biden Administration’s stated reasons for its vaccine mandate: cost savings. Despite the fact that the actual numbers fail to account for the financial cost to recruit and retrain replacements for each separated service member, the Pentagon’s dubious argument also does not account for the degradation in trust, morale, and esprit de corps that is necessary for any effective military force. This has led to a recruiting and retention crisis.
Just three years ago, the Army met its recruiting goal of 68,000 recruits. But this year it faces the dismal prospect of only achieving 40 percent of its goal. Economic factors make these numbers even worse. Consider that military recruiting typically fares worse during times of relative economic strength and low unemployment, and better during more difficult economic circumstances and high unemployment. In 2019, the economy was strong and unemployment was 3.6 percent. Contrast that with today’s economic woes, and one would think recruiting would be strong. The outlook for America’s military is bleak. Meanwhile, China and Russia are licking their chops.
A weak America spells danger for the world. Our nation has long stood as a beacon of strength and hope for the free world. If we do not have a military capable of defending us then nefarious actors who do not share our values will take full advantage.
One solution is elegant in its simplicity. If the Pentagon won’t lift the vaccine mandate, it should at the very least begin honoring its constitutional obligation and grant religious accommodations for service members with sincere religious objections to the vaccine. This first step in recognizing that the Constitution applies to those defending it will also ensure we can continue to attract, recruit, and retain; the best military on earth.
Instilling younger generations with a sense of patriotism and civic pride will inevitably make them more likely to join the military. We must teach our children and our grandchildren that America has not always been perfect, but she is good. For example, look no further than the incredible success of the “Top Gun: Maverick” movie and the brief but noticeable recruiting boon that followed its box office success.
Contrast the Top Gun effect with the Pentagon’s full embrace of woke ideology. Our best and brightest military minds are at wit’s end trying to figure out why young Americans reject military service after having been force-fed anti-American rhetoric and propaganda since preschool. The classic, sardonic bumper sticker that was once a mainstay on military installations rings as true as ever: “the beatings will stop when morale improves.”
Thankfully, there are still many young Americans who love their country and have a heart to serve in uniform. General Jimmy Doolittle, who masterminded the legendary Doolittle Raid, famously said “there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” Doolittle understood that a military comprised of those who serve because of their love of country is far superior to a conscripted one.
Today, America still has an all-volunteer force and young patriots are the lifeblood of our military. Many cite their religious belief as the primary motivation for joining. If our nation’s leaders continue to prioritize politics and fulfill their promise to kick out service members because of their religious beliefs, we run the serious risk of losing that lifeblood.
My firm, First Liberty Institute, represents 35 Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare members who will not be kicked out. These courageous men stepped forward, just as Doolittle’s Raiders did nearly 80 years ago, and dared to challenge the Pentagon’s refusal to grant even a single religious accommodation to the vaccine mandate.
In the first successful challenge to the military vaccine mandate, Judge Reed O’Connor recognized “there is no Covid-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.” Tragically, there are still thousands of service members across the entire military facing the purge. The cost to America in lost military manpower, leadership, combat experience, and skills, goes far beyond a dollar value. The harm to national security by kicking out service members because they object to an experimental vaccine is immeasurable.
Michael Berry is Vice President of External Affairs, Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. He joined First Liberty in 2013 after serving for seven years on active duty as an attorney with the U.S. Marine Corps.