Three U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who refused the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be commissioned as officers and will graduate with bachelor’s degrees instead, the academy told the Associated Press.
A fourth cadet who also refused the vaccine but changed his mind about a week ago will graduate and become an Air Force officer, Academy spokesman Dean Miller added to the AP.
Miller also said the three cadets “will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated,” the outlet reported, adding that the secretary of the Air Force will decide if the trio will owe the government for the costs of their educations in lieu of service.
The Air Force Academy as of Saturday is the only U.S. military academy not commissioning cadets who refuse the vaccine, the AP said, adding that all of the more than 1,000 Army cadets at West Point graduated and were commissioned as officers Saturday — and all were vaccinated. The Naval Academy said Saturday that no Navy or Marine Corps seniors are being denied commissions over vaccine refusals, the outlet said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the scheduled speaker at the Air Force graduation Wednesday in Colorado, last year made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for service members — including those at military academies — saying the shots are critical to maintaining military readiness and the health of the force, the AP said.
But members of Congress, the military, and the public have questioned whether the military’s exemption reviews have been fair, the outlet said, adding that multiple lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, mainly in regard to how few service members have been granted religious exemptions.
Lt. Col. Brian Maguire — an Air Force Academy spokesman — said a week ago all four cadets met with the academy’s superintendent, were told about potential consequences, and had time before graduation to change their minds, the AP reported.
The military academies for years often have required students to repay tuition costs if they leave during their junior or senior years, the outlet said, adding that many such cases involve students with disciplinary issues or similar problems — and the cost can be as much as $200,000 or more.