Military readiness ‘fragile’ despite vax mandate rollback, back pay and reinstatement must follow: Senate GOP
A group of Republican senators cheered the end of the Biden administration's military vaccine mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but warned that readiness and recruitment problems mean there must be additional efforts to reinstate terminated service members and provide them with back pay.
Senators led by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on Thursday condemned the Biden administration's treatment of U.S. troops and warned that partly due to the mandate, military recruitment is at a 'record low,' which is detrimental to the security of the nation.
'The number of new service members joining the military, raising their hand and seeking to serve, is at a record low. Every single branch this year has struggled to meet their recruiting goals,' Blackburn said. As an example, she cited the U.S. Army, which is expected to fall short of its recruiting goals by 20,000 service members.
Blackburn said the Chinese military's expansion in the size of its Navy, Iran's supply of drones to Russia to aid in its war against Ukraine, and North Korea's recent ballistic missile tests demand that the U.S. ensure its fighting force is the most 'lethal' in the world.
'This is what we're facing and now is the time for President Biden to be laser focused on ensuring the U.S. military remains what we want it to be, the most lethal fighting force on the face of the earth,' she said. 'And instead, he continues to impose a vindictive and unnecessary vaccine mandate on our troops, forcing many of them to the sidelines.'
The Republican senators said there needs to be additional action taken to restore unvaccinated and involuntarily terminated troops to their former posts.
Although the rollback of the vaccine is a 'great victory,' Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said military readiness is 'fragile' and reinstatement must be immediately addressed.
'As you've heard, [military readiness] is a very fragile thing, particularly in an all-volunteer force. We need to make sure that we don't try to engage in social science experiments using our troops, and in this case, there was no individualized consideration given for typically pretty young healthy service members, just a broad mandate was issued,' Cornyn said.
'And now we need to follow up and get back pay and reinstatement at some point,' the Texas senator added.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said the end of the mandate is 'not enough,' and there is still work to be done by Congress to give already terminated troops back pay.
'I'm so proud of this caucus, the people standing beside me who helped to stop the dishonorable discharge. But that's not enough,' said Marshall. 'Now we need to stop this vaccine mandate. We need to give the soldiers back pay and their families the back pay that they deserve as well.'
The continued plight of grounded Air Force pilots was brought up by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
'We have pilots that are in various training facilities around the country that they can't train other pilots because they've asked for a religious accommodation, and they've been told, 'No, I'm sorry, you can't get in an aircraft,'' he said.
'So we're losing access to training pilots, We're losing access to additional individuals. And we've got folks that have served in the military 20 to 25 years that have faithfully served their country, that just want an answer to that question,' Lankford said.
Fox News Digital previously reported that the Air Force is still grounding pilots who sought a religious accommodation to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but is allowing other unvaccinated service members to resume regular flying duties.
The senators urged the swift passage of the NDAA, but a date for the final vote on the massive bill has not yet been set.
Former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who served for 37 years in the U.S. Army, spoke with Fox News Digital at the Aspen Security Forum last week and said bolstering the U.S. military's 'core strength' and 'will' to take on China and increasing aid for Ukraine should be top priorities in the annual defense policy bill.
He also condemned Congress for ending the Biden administration's military COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and said complaints about the mandate are 'manufactured outrage.'
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