The Pentagon last month quietly updated its policy to require unmasked service members to show proof of their vaccination status with a vaccination card or other medical documentation.
The Pentagon issued the new guidance on June 22, 2021, via a memo from Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Virginia Penrod.
“Unmasked, fully vaccinated Service members should be prepared to show proof of vaccination (CDC vaccination card or other medical documentation),” the memo said, but did not specify to whom unmasked troops have to show proof of vaccination.
The memo also said supervisors could inquire about or verify the vaccination status of unmasked Department of Defense civilian employees “if the supervisor has a reasonable basis to believe the unmasked employee has not been fully vaccinated, basis on reliable evidence such as firsthand knowledge of voluntary employee statements.”
The memo replaced a May 13, 2021, memo sent out from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks that said commanders and supervisors could not ask about vaccination status.
“Commanders and supervisors should not ask about an employee’s vaccination status or use information about an employee’s vaccination status to make decisions about how and when employees will report to a workplace instead of teleworking,” she wrote.
The Pentagon posted the June 22 memo on its website but did not announce the new policy on troops being required to show proof of vaccination status. It was not mentioned during a June 30 briefing by the leaders of the department’s COVID-19 efforts or at any Pentagon press briefing, according to a review of press briefing transcripts.
Breitbart News asked the Pentagon to confirm whether an announcement of the new policy was made. A spokesman said in an email he did not think an announcement was made.
The new policy came as the nation neared a deadline for President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent vaccination of eligible Americans by July 4.
It also marks a military-wide expansion of what a few Army bases had begun earlier this spring, when they began to require proof of vaccination in order for troops to utilize certain on-base dining and gym facilities.
Now, commanders can implement the policy base-wide.
Fort Rucker in Alabama is the first base in the U.S. to implement the new policy.
The base’s commanding general Army Maj. Gen. David Francis issued an order July 13 that reiterated the new DOD guidance that unmasked uniformed personnel “must be prepared to show proof of vaccination.”
Francis also said in a video posted to the official base Facebook page:
The big difference is going to be that if you are not wearing a mask, the leadership will be able to ask you — ask soldiers — to prove that they’ve been vaccinated by showing their vaccination card. This measure is very important so we can nip this in the bud.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) penned a letter to President Joe Biden on July 19 demanding he end Fort Rucker’s policy. He noted in his letter that troops who have developed natural immunity to the virus would be forced to wear a mask while on base under the policy.
“This is wrong and disconcerting given that there is no persuasive scientific or medical data proving vaccines provide stronger or longer protection than does natural immunity,” he wrote. “On top of unnecessary coercion to get vaccinated, this order fosters a culture of suspicion amongst coworkers regarding a very personal health decision.”
He said in a accompanying statement:
Every single American, including members of our armed forces, should have the ability to make the best decision for them and their own health. The government should not try to intimidate, force, or coerce anyone into receiving the vaccine. Furthermore, it is none of the government’s business who has or has not been vaccinated. Infringing upon doctor-patient confidentiality is discriminatory and wholly un-American.
While the Pentagon cannot make the coronavirus vaccines mandatory since they are still under Emergency Use Authorization and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, leaders are continuing to urge service members, civilian employees, and family members to get fully vaccinated. According to defense officials, more than 30 percent of military personnel have not received a vaccine dose.
But officials say once the vaccines are FDA approved, the Pentagon will take a look at making the vaccines mandatory.
“A vaccinated force is a protected force, and we are hovering very close now to 70 percent of the force having received one dose,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said July 13. “That’s encouraging, but there’s more work to do. And so we continue to be in the mode of encouraging troops to get vaccinated to the maximum degree, and that, you know, again, we believe that’s the best way forward.”
“If and when these vaccines are FDA-approved, the secretary will certainly want to explore additional options for vaccine delivery,” he said.