Wear a Mask or Show Proof of Vaccine Unless You Want an Article 15

July 21, 2021James R. Webb
proof vaccine

Updated guidance from the Department of Defense, now being implemented by individual units across the military, enables commanders to ask whether individual service members have been vaccinated. Those without masks on a military installation who cannot prove they have been vaccinated will be subject to disciplinary action. US Army photo by Emily LaForme, courtesy of DVIDS.

A June Department of Defense COVID-19 guidance update that enables base commanders to ask service members for proof of vaccination is beginning to impact the military. “Several dozen unvaccinated soldiers” were given General Officer Memoranda of Reprimand, Fort Knox Command Information Chief Kyle Hodges told Coffee or Die Magazine. These actions come as large swaths of the country drop mask mandates and reopen to full capacity.

“These unmasked Soldiers failed to provide proof of vaccination,” Hodges told Coffee or Die via email. “Current DoD and Fort Knox policy require personnel to wear masks in DoD facilities if not vaccinated.”

proof vaccine
An inoculation team member injects the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine into a firefighter at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Earlier this month, senior leadership at Fort Knox disciplined several dozen service members who were not wearing masks. US Army photo by Eric Pilgrim, courtesy of DVIDS.

The soldiers were stopped by “senior leaders” as they attempted to enter on-post facilities on Fort Knox, such as a shopette and the Post Exchange, unmasked, Hodges said. Upon failure to prove their vaccination statuses, those soldiers were issued GOMORs, which are considered significant disciplinary actions.

According to the Army, a GOMOR, if permanent, has severe implications for a soldier’s career. While a commander has the option of making a GOMOR a temporary disciplinary action, a permanent GOMOR can derail even the most pristine career. For enlisted soldiers, a GOMOR can prevent promotion, and in the case of officers, it can be the basis for separation from the military. 

When asked whether these disciplinary actions would be made permanent, Hodges said “Each case will be reviewed independently on its merits.”

proof vaccine
A US Air Force airman receives a COVID- 19 vaccination. DOD policy has enabled individual base commanders to set their own mask requirements. Additionally, members of the military can be asked to present proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristine Legate, courtesy of DVIDS.

Those disciplined at Fort Knox violated what Hodges said was “a standing DOD policy and installation order.” Specifically, Fort Knox’s “General Order Number 1 Relating to Coronavirus” states: “all persons on Fort Knox may be required to show proof of vaccination to access and remain in Fort Knox workplaces and facilities without wearing a mask.”

In other services, such as the Marine Corps, similar disciplinary events have yet to occur. However, the potential for them remains. On July 9, the Marine Corps issued MARADMINS Number: 354/21, which states that nonvaccinated personnel must remain masked at all times, including outdoors. Additionally, commanders have both the authority to ask someone to show evidence of vaccination and the latitude to enforce potentially more restrictive measures.

“Commanders and supervisors may enforce a more restrictive mask policy than this MARADMIN to ensure a safe workforce, to respect host nation or local jurisdiction guidelines, or to ensure mission accomplishment,” the MARADMIN reads. 

The aggressive new trend of mask enforcement aboard US military bases began July 13 when, according to the Army Times, the leadership of Fort Rucker, Alabama, required all personnel to show proof of vaccination if they were maskless. The move by leadership at Fort Rucker came nearly three weeks after the DOD guidance allowing commanders to implement such requirements was published.  

How long the mask mandates are to remain and how many installations will adopt a “proof of vaccine” policy remains to be seen. However, according to Hodges, those at Fort Knox who choose not to comply should be prepared to face disciplinary action.

“Fort Knox leaders will continue to ensure the health and safety of those working on the installation and the surrounding community by enforcing standards and policy,” Hodges said.

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James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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