We’ve all witnessed the incompetence of the DOD over the last year. Some of it is circumstantial, but I’d argue that most of it is due to the lack of conviction with leadership to put its foot down and say, “this is what we’re doing; move out.” There were far too many general officers and admirals who were opposed to many of the policies being dictated to them (I know because I’ve developed A LOT of contacts within the DOD), so in that regard it was circumstantial. However, when decisions were made, they were rarely stuck to. We could argue all day how much say people had over those decisions, and there would probably be valid arguments to support either side of that fight, but it doesn’t change the fact that the constant changing of policy has been crippling for morale due to the second and third order of effects that resulted from the lack of decisiveness. I want to talk about readiness, and we’re going to use the 82nd CAB’s 3-82 GSAB as the vehicle to do it.
3-82 General Support Aviation Battalion
The number one reason for the push in vaccinations within the DOD is readiness. I can sympathize with that. At the end of the day, the self inflicted restrictions our military and government put on us placed us in a very tender situation of moving forward with training and deployments while also trying to stymie the spread of COVID. Did it stop units from breaking the rules and going to JRTC and NTC anyways? No, it sure didn’t. But, those lying ass officers were able to play a very poor shell game of three cup shuffle and muddy the details enough to get away with it. This was partly due to the lying ass officers in the pentagon who knew about it and allowed it, plus the movements being within the states.
International travel, such as deployments, is much more heavily scrutinized. While commanders will say things like, “it’s my responsibility to ensure the well being and safety of my troops,” what they actually mean is, “we can’t deploy if you’re not vaccinated because those are the arbitrary rules we made up, so even though the vaccine is OPTIONAL, it’s really not.” That’s where 3-82 comes in.
3-82 has been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan for a while, but the timeline keeps shifting right due to the current theater commander halting any RIPs into country until the current administration figures out what the they’re going to do. Members of the Task Force were on restriction of movement up to 2 days prior to torch party leaving. Last week everyone was out back on restriction of movement and told to expect to deploy shortly. During this time, Task Force leadership has been pushing everyone to get the Pfizer vaccine. The stance changed from “if you do not have a vaccine you will be subject to random daily testing in Afghanistan and can’t use the gym or dining facility” to “Soldiers who don’t have a COVID vaccination are going to get replaced by staff LT aviators.” The Task Force is a MFATF (multi function aviation task force), meaning it’s mostly Chinooks mixed with a small element of UH60 and apaches. The 60 pilots will be swapped out with pilots who have been vaccinated.
Risk the mission for an optional vaccine?
Task Force leadership has decided the risk to the mission is greater if someone doesn’t have a non-mandatory COVID shot than to have brand new 300 – 400 hour new PC LTs take PI and PC spots in Afghanistan with very little combat training for the deployment. Before the threats and obvious implications to Soldier’s careers, less than 50% of the approximately 400 Soldier Task Force was vaccinated. On Monday, COL Irving (CAB Commander) pulled the Task Force off of ROM (restriction of movement) under the guise of a sexual assault/harassment brief where he talked about assault for about 15 minutes then pivoted to vaccinations for the rest of the hour. I’m told he shot down everyone question while using his flight doctors to push the vaccine.
Now the Task Force is up to 72% vaccination rate. Looks like bullying DOES work, right? Except no one is making fun of your ugly ass face or your dumb hi and tight (I am, but that’s beside the point). The dudes who headed to Afghanistan two weeks ago were told today to either get the vaccine or they’ll be replaced and sent home. Didn’t COL Irving just say he hadn’t authorized anyone to travel without the double shot? Then what are those folks doing in Afghanistan already?
Why not just make it mandatory? Well, we covered that. These command teams will bully you and threaten your career to get what they want, and they will never equate that to anything unethical or immoral even though it’s directly contradictory to what the DOD mandated. This simply will not change. No amount of visits to the Inspector General will change that. Understand you’re not alone, though. Many of you have messaged me and told me your situation, and I can assure you it’s being felt everywhere.
Side note: the last number I was given was 38 for the amount of pilots who had dropped their REFRAD packets (to leave the military) in the 82nd CAB, and that was all the way back in October. Who knows what that number is now….