Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has played down the effect of dismissing Army troops for failing to comply with the Biden administration’s military vaccination mandate, even amid threats of China and Russia and recruitment difficulties in the army.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), a Navy veteran, asked Milley at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday whether it was worth sacrificing the Army’s total troop numbers for the vaccination orders.
“Would you rather have a few extra battalions of unvaccinated soldiers, or not have any at all because of this?” Banks asked Milley.
“By the way, the number of those who refuse to be vaccinated is very low, and it is even lower. I mean, it’s tiny the numbers they’re being asked to process. So I think it’s manageable, and I think I’d rather everyone just go ahead and get vaccinated,” Milley said.
So far, around 2,000 soldiers have been expelled, but the number could reach thousands more.
Banks noted that the Army National Guard missed its recent recruiting goal of 8,000 and that the Army now plans to significantly reduce the size of its personnel due to recruiting issues.
Milley said recruiting difficulties were a mix of a lack of eligible recruits and a desire to save money.
Banks then noted that the Army is offering new recruits up to $50,000 in signing bonuses as it kicks out soldiers.
“How much additional cost are we going to incur as a result of increased recruitment bonuses to combat projected casualties for unvaccinated military personnel? The banks asked.
Milley said he should get back to him on a cost analysis, but stressed that the number of soldiers expelled is “very, very small” in the military.
Banks noted that it is expected that 2,692 soldiers – the size of a few army battalions – have not taken the vaccine and will likely be kicked out of the army.
“Again, how will this loss of personnel affect the overall final strength of the army?” he asked Milley.
Milley then said that if all those troops were kicked out, “I think it would hurt,” but he indicated that some might be convinced to get vaccinated.
“I think there’s an education issue here and persuasion, and making sure these soldiers are making informed decisions,” he said.
Banks noted that six Army leaders were relieved of the vaccination mandate and that the Army issued 3,182 written reprimands from general officers to active duty soldiers during the mandate.
“How did this loss of leadership and focus on administrative burdens improve the Army’s combat readiness and build combat power?” He asked.
Milley said he regretted the commanders being relieved, but said: “We are an institution that has one set of requirements, in terms of force health and firepower and so on. And there is a policy, and our job is to enforce the policy.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that despite the low average number of daily infections – less than 0.0001% of the total US population – the vaccination mandate requirement will remain.
“We’ve seen variations of that – this virus, you know, decline and then grow again. And so it is a requirement of medical preparation, and it will remain so,” he said.
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