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EXCLUSIVE: ‘A Huge Blow’: Decline In White Recruits Fueling The Military’s Worst-Ever Recruiting Crisis, Data Shows

Each U.S. military service saw a notable decline in white recruits over the past five years, according to data obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, likely factoring into the military’s crippling recruiting crisis.

The Army, Navy and Air Force missed their recruiting objectives by historically large margins in fiscal year 2023, which ended on Sept. 30, as the broader American public has grown wary of military service, according to Department of Defense (DOD) statistics, officials and experts who spoke to the DCNF. Since 2018, however, the number of recruits from minority groups has remained steady — or, in some cases, increased — while the number of white recruits has declined, according to data on the demographics of new recruits obtained by the DCNF.

The data “reveals the decline of white recruits is almost entirely responsible for the recruiting crisis,” Will Thibeau, director of the American Military Project at the Claremont Institute, told the DCNF.

“A smaller proportion of white Americans serve now than ever before. This is fundamental, because complimentary increases in black and Hispanic recruits have not taken place,” he added.

U.S. troops are under attack in the Middle East, maintaining a heightened posture against a belligerent Russia in Europe, and bolstering deterrence against the People’s Republic of China. The U.S. military is weakening, unable to respond to some of the most pressing challenges to U.S. national security, according to a report released by the Heritage Foundation.

“This is a huge blow as the recruiting crisis is the worst in the history of the all volunteer force,” Robert Greenway, director of the Allison Center for National Security at Heritage, told the DCNF, referring to the plummeting numbers of white recruits since 2018.

A Dramatic Decline In White Recruits

Other demographic groups have fluctuated over those five years, but none consistently tumbled over time like the white demographic.

In fiscal year 2018, 44,042 new recruits to the Army — or 56.4% of the total — were white, according to data obtained by the DCNF. That number collapsed to a low of 25,070 — or 44.0% of the total — in fiscal 2023.

Over the same time period, black Army recruits increased from 19.6% of the total in 2018 to 23.5% in 2023, and Hispanic Army recruits rose from 17.2% to 23.5%. However, the real number of recruits from the remaining non-white demographic groups also dipped from fiscal 2018 to 2023, as the total number of new personnel the Army signed on each year fell dramatically, the data shows. None of these groups saw the same degree of decline as white recruits, however.

Military.com first reported the precipitous drop in the number of Army soldiers recruited in fiscal year 2023 from five years prior.

“What we’re seeing is a reflection of society; what we know less of is what is driving all of these things,” an Army official told Military.com. “There is no widely accepted cause.”

Click here for Army New Recruits By Race infographic.

The Army implemented new race categories in fiscal year 2023 that split Asian or Pacific Islander into individual categories and introduced multiple options combined under “Two or More” in the data obtained by the DCNF. For visual aid purposes, the DCNF re-combined Asian and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander in 2023.

While the Army may have experienced the worst of the military’s recruiting woes, the data obtained by the DCNF shows that a similar pattern exists across all branches of the armed services. White people are joining the military in lower numbers than before as other racial or ethnic groups do not demonstrate the same shortfalls.

Data for the Air Force shows that Asian recruits increased from 1,110 — or 3.7% of a total 29,831 recruits — in 2018 to 1,471 — or 6.1% of a total of 23,967 recruits — in 2023. While the number of black Air Force recruits was nearly identical during this period — 5,144 in 2018 and 5,155 in 2023 — they comprised a larger percentage of the incoming force in 2023, at 21.51%, than they had in 2018, at 17.2%, as the Air Force’s incoming classes shrunk.

White Air Force recruits, by contrast, dipped from 21,593 in 2018, or 72.4% of the total, to 15,068, or 62.9% of the total, in 2023, the data shows.

Hispanic recruits were tracked as a separate, binary measure of ethnicity. The number categorized as non-Hispanic dropped from 24,204 in 2018 to 17,913 in 2023 — a decline of 6,291. At the same time, the number of Hispanic recruits increased only slightly — from 5,627 in 2018 to 6,054 in 2023.

It was unclear precisely how many white Air Force recruits also selected Hispanic as their ethnicity, or how many Hispanic recruits selected the “white” or “multiple” race category. Data for the Space Force was not included in the DCNF’s analysis.

Click here for Air Force New Recruits By Race infographic.

In the Navy, the number of white recruits fell from 24,343 in fiscal year 2018 to 18,205 in fiscal year 2023, accounting for some of the overall drop of about 9,000 new recruits over the same time period, the data shows. The numbers of black and Asian Navy recruits increased over the same period, with black recruits increasing from 6,798 in 2018 to 7,947 in 2023 and Asian recruits increasing from 1,518 to 2,075 over the same period.  As with the Air Force data, Hispanic recruits were not included in the dataset as a category.

The ethnicity of 10% Navy recruits in 2018 was listed as “none-unknown,” but that number dropped to nearly zero by 2021, potentially clouding any true comparison of data between years. There were also small drops in recruits listed as American Indian or Alaskan Native, “multiple races” and Native Hawaiian-Other Pacific Islander.

As in the Air Force, a separate measurement of ethnicity for Navy recruits included only two categories: Hispanic and Non-Hispanic. The proportion of Hispanic recruits grew from 18% in 2018 to 25% in 2023, while the real number of Non-Hispanic recruits actually dropped from 31,977 to 22,746.

Click here for Nave New Recruits By Race infographic.

Unlike with the Air Force and Navy, the Marine Corps calculated race and ethnicity together, placing Hispanics in a separate category alongside white, African American and “other” recruits. It also included specific data for officers and enlisted recruits, further complicating any comparison between the services. However, this data appears to suggest that, although the Marine Corps has not struggled to meet recruiting objectives like the other services have, any decline in overall numbers of new recruits has been driven by a smaller pool of white Marines in the new cohort.

White enlisted Marine Corps recruits dropped from 21,455 — 58% of the total — in fiscal 2018 to 14,287 — 43% of the total — in fiscal 2023. Hispanic recruits climbed from 9,984 — 27% of the total — to 12,859 — 39% of the total. The number of black recruits did not change appreciably: 3,708, or roughly 10%, in 2018 to 3,603, or roughly or 11%, in 2023.

The “other” category for enlisted Marine recruits jumped from 1,765 to 2,574.

The largest drop in white enlisted Marines occurred between 2021 and 2022, when they declined by 3,090, accounting for most of the overall decline of 3,214.

Combining both enlisted personnel and officers, there was an overall 32.2% decline in the number of white Marines joining. In 2018, there was a combined total 22,699 white enlisted personnel and officers recruited; in 2023 it was 15,387. The number of African American Marine recruits decreased marginally — from 3,708 to 3,603 — while recruits categorized as Hispanic increased from 9,984 to 12,859, as did recruits categorized as “other” — 1,765 in 2018 to 2,574 in 2023.

Click here for the Marine Corps Recruits By Race infographic.

Behind The Decline In White Recruits

Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps officials could not explain why there has been a decline in whites recruited to serve.

“Factors influencing recruitment demographics can be complex and multifaceted,” an Air Force spokesperson told the DCNF.

Spokespeople for each of the services cited various reasons recruitment overall has fallen dramatically in the past three years.

For example, only 23% of 17-to-24-year-old Americans meet the minimum physical and academic standards for joining without a waiver and even fewer — about 10% — express a desire to join, according to an Army press release. The civilian job market may present more attractive opportunities with better benefits, while fewer members of the younger generation are familiar with the military at all, officials say.

Young Americans are also losing trust in institutions in general, including the U.S. military, the Army has said.

In a 2022 survey the Army commissioned, young people cited safety concerns and the stress of Army life as inhibitors to enlisting and also said they didn’t want to steal time away from pursuing other careers.

“Additionally, recognizing that Generation Z represents the newest cohort of service members, it is essential to meet their expectations for an inclusive workplace. As we engage with youth, a fundamental principle remains steadfast – the recruitment of qualified Americans who mirror the society the Department of the Air Force serves,” the Air Force spokesperson said.

Army officials attributed factors including drug use, obesity and a drop in white male representation in the labor market in comments to Military.com. They also blamed Republicans’ partisan attacks against perceived left-wing infiltration of the military, saying an excessive focus on “wokeness” had presented the military as an institution hostile to white people, according to Military.com.

Conservative lawmakers and media highlighting the Army’s preoccupation with diversity could contribute to the problem, some Army officials told Military.com.

“No, the young applicants don’t care about this stuff,” one Army official told Military.com. “There’s a level of prestige in parts of conservative America with service that has degraded.”

The Army did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment on the data.

Experts cast doubt on the Pentagon’s talking points about problems with eligibility to serve.

“All of that historically has been a challenge, and it is no different today. Those aren’t the reasons why they’re not getting recruits,” Greenway told the DCNF.

And, they don’t explain why the numbers of white recruits are falling.

“Fewer white Americans see the military as a righteous way to serve their country, but it is readily apparent the military is trying to recruit fewer white Americans in order to meet various policies of race composition in place throughout the Armed Forces. For every diversity objective, there is an imperative to reduce the proportion of white recruits. Since 2018, that’s exactly what has happened,” Thibeau said.

Race-Focused Recruiting

The military for years has prioritized reaching out to women and minority racial or ethnic groups, adding new initiatives each year aimed at increasing the proportion of underrepresented groups among the total ranks.

Pentagon officials and official documents outline the military’s goals to increase the proportion of minority ethnic and racial groups in the total ranks.

The military does not have explicit quotas for representation in the ranks. But, the Pentagon’s guiding strategic plan through 2026 sets year-over-year targets for “increased representation of racial/ethnic minorities and women” in military career fields where the breakdown is seen as out of balance. It also sets goals of having more minorities included in the pool of applicants eligible for promotion to higher ranks.

The Pentagon’s top military officer has stated that he hires “for diversity.”

“We focus on recruiting the best and brightest of America,” a Navy spokesperson told the DCNF.

“Though faced with a challenging recruiting environment, the Navy has and continues to provide several opportunities to all who choose to wear the uniform, and we will continue to build pathways for all qualified individuals to serve.”

The Air Force “seeks to reflect the broader population to ensure a well-rounded force,” the spokesperson told the DCNF.

A Marine Corps spokesperson explicitly denied the service follows diversity-focused recruitment policies.

“Marine Corps Recruiting Command does not have diversity-oriented policies. Applicants must be morally, medically and physically qualified in order to serve,” the spokesperson told the DCNF.

A shift in emphasis to criteria aside from performance, such as race, ethnicity or gender, “is going to impact the groups that would be disadvantaged by that for the perception that that they would be disadvantaged by that,” Greenway told the DCNF.

“The services are prioritizing racial goals, and when you pursue racial goals and composition, you’re going to change your recruiting policy,” Greenway told the DCNF. It also contributes to declining trust in the military as white young people who would otherwise be eligible and interested in service lose confidence they would be evaluated and promoted based on their qualification, he added.

Complaints about the military’s diversity-oriented policies emanating from Congress are more likely reflective of feedback lawmakers receive from constituents, Greenway said.

The Worst Recruiting Crisis In 50 Years

The size of the active-duty force fluctuated between 2018 and 2023, but reached dramatic lows at the end of 2023, data shows.

The DOD maintained an estimated 1,314,000 active-duty troops out of an authorized end strength of 1,322,500 at the end of fiscal year 2018, according to department statistics. The Army missed its active duty recruiting goal by 6,528 troops, while the other services slightly exceeded theirs, data shows.

Congress’ fiscal year 2024 defense policy bill capped military end strength at 1,295,700 active-duty personnel, down from an authorized 1,316,944 in 2023, when it achieved only an estimated 1,296,271, data shows.

“This fiscal year was without a doubt the toughest recruitment year for the Military Services since the inception of the all-volunteer force. The Marine Corps (active and reserve components) and the Space Force are the only Services to achieve their FY recruitment goals. The Department continues to work collaboratively to develop innovative ways to inspire service and mitigate recruiting shortfalls,” DOD said in a statement announcing the fiscal year 2023 recruitment numbers.

The Army fared worst, achieving just 76.61% of its target — 50,181 out of 65,500, according to DOD data. Only the Marine Corps and Space Force met their goals.

The Army had 485,000 active-duty troops in 2021, but it finished out 2023 with just 452,000, the smallest full-time force since before WWII. Sweeping reforms to the Army’s recruiting structure announced in October have yet to materialize.

Some steps the Army has taken so far appear to be successful. The Army’s Future Soldier Prep Course, which provides academic tutoring or physical fitness training for prospective soldiers who don’t quite meet entrance standards, has graduated nearly 9,000 Army recruits since implementation in August 2022.

The U.S. Navy missed active duty recruiting objectives for 2023 by about 20%, despite rolling out a score of initiatives aimed at relieving pressure on recruiting — including offering bonuses up to $75,000 for enlistees in certain highly technical occupations and raising the maximum age to join from 39 to 41.

It also pushed the limit of the congressionally-mandated maximum percentage for recruits who score between the 10th and 30th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, according to the statement.

Seeking to recreate the Army’s success in boosting the test scores of potential future soldiers, the Navy also implemented “Future Sailor Preparatory Courses” at boot camp to help possible recruits meet the Navy’s academic and physical standards, the statement said.

The Navy strove to take on a total of 40,232 active-duty officers and enlisted personnel, but only achieved 32,316 in fiscal year 2023, according to a press release.

The Air Force achieved only 24,923, or 89%, of its goal 27,851 new active-duty officers and enlisted troops for the fiscal year, while the Air Force Reserve fared even worse.

The Marine Corps reached its recruiting goal, Commandant Gen. Eric Smith announced on social media on Sept. 28. “I’m mindful of how challenging an environment this is and want to publicly give credit to our professional recruiters and all our Marines who uphold our rigorous standards 24/7,” he said.

In addition, the Space Force had obtained more than 99% of its proportionally small accessions goal by July.

“The Marine Corps recruits the best this country has to offer who reflect our culture and values in every demographic which is reflective of the American population,” the Marine Corps spokesperson told the DCNF.

AUTHOR

MICAELA BURROW

Investigative reporter, defense.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Daily Caller column is republished with permission. All rights reserved.

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

The IEI and Ariane Tabatabai’s Controversy

Exploring the IEI’s Global Influence and the Enigma Surrounding Tabatabai’s Role.


In the world of international diplomacy, secrets have a way of unraveling. Leaked emails and reports have recently unveiled a clandestine Iranian operation known as the Iran Experts Initiative (IEI). This covert endeavor, designed to cultivate support for Iran’s nuclear program, has sent shockwaves through the corridors of power. But that’s just the beginning.

Within this revelation, another thread has emerged — the involvement of key figures from the Biden administration with the IEI. This revelation raises profound questions about foreign influence and its implications on U.S. policy.

The IEI, previously shrouded in secrecy, has now been exposed for what it is – a covert Iranian operation. Its primary objective? To garner international support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This revelation adds a new layer of complexity to the ongoing global discussions about Iran’s nuclear program.

The involvement of Biden administration aides with the IEI is a central theme. These individuals, working within the highest echelons of the U.S. government, had ties to the IEI. The nature of these links and their implications on U.S. policy decisions remain under scrutiny.

The IEI was not limited to a single sphere of influence. It infiltrated academia, leveraging the credibility of scholars to propagate its agenda. Meanwhile, sympathetic journalists played their part, shaping public perception subtly. Think tanks, known for their role in policymaking, were strategically targeted. Case studies vividly illustrate the IEI’s success in influencing policy decisions. And it didn’t stop there; former government officials transitioning into advocacy roles created conflicts and ethical dilemmas that continue to raise eyebrows.

The Biden administration’s approach to Iran stands in stark contrast to previous administrations. It is marked by a commitment to re-engage with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a notable departure from the aggressive stance of the past. This shift in policy has not only raised eyebrows. Still, it has caused genuine concern among policymakers and the public, who worry about potential risks and the implications of this new direction, making it a central point of debate in the broader context of U.S. foreign policy.

Amidst these revelations, the potential for undue influence on U.S. policy looms large. The need to mitigate foreign impact is paramount, echoing concerns about the integrity of policymaking. It’s a complex issue with no easy answers.

Ariane Tabatabai’s Controversy

As this international intrigue unfolds, Ariane Tabatabai, a former Georgetown University security studies professor and current senior adviser to the U.S. Department of Defense, finds herself at the center of a heated controversy. Genuine concern has arisen regarding her purported ties to Iranian regime influence networks and her security clearance.

The acquisition of her security clearance remains a shadowy enigma, with scant details emerging. Yet, one report suggests that her connections to the Islamic Republic networks managed to evade detection during the clearance process.

The security clearance saga erupted in April 2021 when a group of U.S. lawmakers demanded the revocation of Tabatabai’s clearance, citing her involvement in an “Iranian influence network” that they believed endangered national security.

Fast forward to September 2023, and Republican lawmakers intensify the call. They demand an investigation into Islamic Republic-backed influence operations on U.S. soil, advocating the suspension of clearances for officials, including Tabatabai, potentially swayed by these networks.

In response, Tabatabai can only refute these allegations. She tries to label them “baseless and unfounded,” portraying them as part of a “smear campaign” orchestrated by lawmakers seeking to undermine the Biden administration’s diplomacy with Iran’s regime, yet providing no clear explanations for the accusations.

And yet, despite the ongoing furor, Tabatabai’s security clearance endures as of September 2023, and surprisingly, she remains a senior adviser within the U.S. Department of Defense.

It’s not just her alleged ties to Iran’s regime influence networks that have been scrutinized. The accusations against her are part of a broader discourse surrounding U.S. policy towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some U.S. officials and lawmakers contend that the Biden administration’s stance is overly lenient, failing to adequately support the Iranian people’s battle for democracy and human rights. Conversely, others advocate for diplomatic engagement and peaceful resolution in the U.S.-Iran relationship.

This exposure of the Iran Experts Initiative raises critical questions about foreign influence on U.S. policy. Whether through academia, media, think tanks, or former officials, vigilance is imperative to maintain the integrity of U.S. policymaking in a complex and interconnected world.

As for Ariane Tabatabai’s security clearance acquisition remains opaque, while her ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran influence networks kindle a political storm. Lawmakers’ calls for revocation have yet to bear fruit, and she continues her work at the U.S. Department of Defense. This controversy also mirrors broader debates on U.S. policy towards Iran, illustrating today’s complexity of international diplomacy.

©2024. Amil Imani. All rights reserved.

Three U.S. Troops Killed In Drone Attack Near Syrian Border

Three U.S. troops were killed in a drone attack in Jordan near the border of Syria, where Iran-backed militias have conducted more than 150 attacks on bases hosting U.S. troops in recent months, the military said Sunday.

A one-way attack drone crashed into the Jordanian base Saturday night, killing the three U.S. service members and injuring 25 more, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement. One of the Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq carried out the attack, but the facts of the incident were still being assessed, the White House also said.

“Today, America’s heart is heavy,” President Joe Biden said in the statement.

The attack signifies a major escalation, as it’s the first time U.S. service members have been killed. A Dec. 25 attack on a base in Iraq critically wounded a service member, who is recovering in the hospital. At least 70 U.S. troops have sustained minor or concussive wounds, a senior military official said on Jan. 25.

CENTCOM is withholding the names of the fallen troops until their family members have been notified, which typically happens within 24 hours of the incident.

Biden called the attack “despicable and wholly unjust.”

“We will carry on their commitment to fight terrorism. And have no doubt — we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing,” Biden said.

The attack signifies a major escalation, as it’s the first time U.S. service members have been killed. A Dec. 25 attack on a base in Iraq critically wounded a service member, who is recovering in the hospital. At least 70 U.S. troops have sustained minor or concussive wounds, a senior military official said on Jan. 25.

CENTCOM is withholding the names of the fallen troops until their family members have been notified, which typically happens within 24 hours of the incident.

Biden called the attack “despicable and wholly unjust.”

“We will carry on their commitment to fight terrorism. And have no doubt — we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing,” Biden said.

The Saturday incident also appears to be the first to impact Tower 22 in Jordan, where U.S. forces are advising and assisting Jordanian troops, since the attacks on U.S. and coalition bases began Oct 17, CNN reported.

The primary groups behind the attacks have said they want to punish the U.S. for supporting Israel as it seeks to eliminate the Hamas terrorist group from Gaza.
Biden has instructed the secretary of defense to order several retaliatory attacks against the militias, most recently on Jan. 23 when U.S. forces executed airstrikes in Iraq against three facilities used by Iran-backed militias south of Baghdad. Those were in response to multiple ballistic missile and rocket attacks Iranian-backed militias launched at al-Assad Airbase, injuring at least four.

AUTHOR

MICAELA BURROW

Investigative reporter, defense.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Daily Caller column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.


All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

REPORT: U.S. Warship, Multiple Commercial Ships Under Attack In Red Sea

An American warship and several commercial ships came under attack Sunday in the Red Sea, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“We’re aware of reports regarding attacks on the USS Carney and commercial vessels in the Red Sea and will provide information as it becomes available,” the Pentagon said, without identifying the source of the attack, per the AP news report.

The attack began at about 10 a.m. in Sanaa, Yemen, and had lasted as long as five hours, with the Carney intercepting at least one drone during the attack, some unnamed U.S. officials reportedly told the AP.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a military spokesperson for the Iran-linked, Yemen-based Houthi rebels said the Houthis took responsibility for attacking two Israeli ships in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden with a drone and a missile, The Times of Israel reported. The Houthis reportedly did not mention the attack on the Carney but reportedly added that the attacks would continue for as long as the Israel-Hamas war lasts.

The British military simply said there were drone attacks and explosions in the Red Sea, per the AP.

A rocket hit a Bahamian-flagged British vessel sailing off Yemen’s western coast, per the Times of Israel.

Before the reported attack on the Carney, there reportedly were at least 38 similar attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel.

The reported attack occurred a day after the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rallied Saturday for American leadership on the world stage in his keynote address at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

“The world built by American leadership can only be maintained by American leadership,” Austin said. “From Russia to China, from Hamas to Iran, our rivals and foes want to divide and weaken the United States — and to split us off from our allies and partners. So at this hinge in history, America must not waver. … [T]he cost of abdication has always far outweighed the cost of leadership.”

AUTHOR

JOHN OYEWALE

Contributor.

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Navy SEALs Are Fighting For Religious Exemptions To Vaccine Mandates, And The Battle Is Far From Over

  • U.S. Navy SEALs continue fighting in the courts to obtain religious exemptions to the military’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination while the Biden administration lets exemption requests stack up, unaddressed.
  • Legal experts argue that the administration’s argument to national security no longer applies in light of changing CDC guidelines.
  • “The Constitution, federal law, and DOD regulations all protect religious liberty in the military, and our courts have repeatedly reminded us that there is no [COVID-19] exception to the Constitution,” Mike Berry, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute that is representing the SEALs, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Some Navy SEALs’ case for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination trudges along in the Fifth Circuit court as defense leaders remain wedded to the Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate.

Pandemic restrictions have loosened significantly in most sectors, with federal guidelines changing to reflect the lessened threat of the virus, but the Department of Defense (DOD) continues to maintain that vaccination is critical to ensure readiness of the armed services. It will take continued litigation to convince the military to respect religious accommodation laws that would prevent thousands of service members from facing discharge or confinement to low-skill jobs, the SEALs’ attorneys told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The law is on our side. The Constitution, federal law, and DOD regulations all protect religious liberty in the military, and our courts have repeatedly reminded us that there is no (COVID-19) exception to the Constitution,” Mike Berry, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute that is representing the SEALs, told the DCNF.

First Liberty filed suit in November 2021 on behalf of 26 Navy SEALs and other Special Warfare personnel against the Biden administration, arguing that the mandate violates servicemembers’ right to free exercise of religion.

In January, a Texas judge, relying on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), temporarily blocked the Navy from considering vaccination status when making assignment decisions for the plaintiffs. The case reached the Supreme Court in March when the Biden administration asked the court to reverse the ruling, and the court granted a partial stay to the order.

“Generally, military members are required to follow orders, but in this case, the military has shown sheer hostility toward religious exemptions rather than using the least restrictive means possible. In its effort to be draconian, the military refused to even recognize the now proved science of natural immunity,” Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert told the DCNF.

Out of the 3,375 sailors who have requested religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine as of Aug. 24, only 46 have been approved, according to Department of Defense data. So far, the Navy has recorded 105,277 COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths.

“Did the Navy, in good faith, apply the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in these cases, or did they predetermine that they were going to deny all religious accommodations?” R. Davis Younts, an Air Force reservist and attorney representing several military members seeking religious exemptions, told the DCNF. Referring to the latter possibility, he claimed, “It’s clear that they did, and I think the facts continue to bear that out.”

The military needs to consider exemption cases individually instead of stonewalling requests or issuing blanket denials that no longer reflect the Biden administration’s own COVID-19 guidance, Younts added. The compelling interest of the military to require vaccination — that COVID-19 posed a direct threat to military readiness — no longer exists.

Sailors, soldiers and airmen, many of whom have years of highly-specified training and experience under their belts, remain in limbo while court cases play out, unable to receive promotions or continue their training, Younts explained. Thousands of service members may be dragooned out of a force that is already falling vastly short of its recruiting goals amid blatant threats of war from foreign powers.

“We’re being treated like pariahs,” he said.

The only way forward is continued litigation and “individual military members taking a stand,” Younts said, adding that any policy change among DOD leaders is unlikely.

“This is a public interest issue with significant implications … that has to make a difference,” he added.

Virginia on Tuesday joined 21 other states in filing an amicus brief, dated Aug. 29, supporting the religious liberty of Navy SEALs and other U.S. Navy members to seek vaccine exemptions. The Biden administration has asked the court to give the military “extraordinary” deference in its decision to mandate and enforce vaccination, undermining the fundamental liberties of Navy service members, according to the brief.

“Navy SEALs are some of our best and brightest, willing to sacrifice their lives to protect our freedoms. Those who have filed religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine deserve to be heard and taken seriously,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a statement.

The states argued that they have effectively managed COVID-19 within their borders without infringing on religious liberties, and the government should be able to do the same. They decried the administration’s “overreaching and flawed claims of legal authority.”

“The Administration’s near-blanket refusal to grant religious exemptions is not credible … its denial in this case is not entitled to deference,” the brief stated.

“The evidence strongly favors the sailors. The Navy’s own testimony indicates that their decision was based on politics. There is no military or scientific justification for their assault on religious freedoms,” Gohmert said.

However, the Supreme Court had argued that the previous injunction overstepped the judiciary’s authority by overturning an order of the Executive made in an apparent effort to safeguard national security.

“RFRA does not justify judicial intrusion into military affairs in this case. That is because the Navy has an extraordinarily compelling interest in maintaining strategic and operational control over the assignment and deployment of all Special Warfare personnel — including control over decisions about military readiness,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote in the concurring opinion.

Discharges for sailors seeking religious exemptions have been postponed pending the court case, according to the Navy. Of those who either did not seek exemptions or whose requests were denied, 1,533 have been separated with honorable characterization of service.

The Navy and the White House did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

AUTHOR

MICAELA BURROW

Reporter.

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