Defense

EXCLUSIVE: Elite Military Unit Risks Mass Exodus Over Vaccine Mandate, Retired Member Says

(Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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One of the most exclusive units of the United States Armed Forces is at risk of facing a mass exodus over the Department of Homeland Security’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a recently-retired member told the Daily Caller.

At least 60 of the Coast Guard’s 340 elite Aviation Survival Technicians – better known as helicopter rescue swimmers – are seeking exemptions from the vaccine mandate, retired rescue swimmer David Kroll told the Daily Caller in an exclusive interview. The Coast Guard is already short on rescue swimmers, Kroll said, and a loss of dozens more would threaten the effectiveness and stability of the force.

Kroll, a 24-year veteran of the Coast Guard who served as a rescue swimmer and trained them at the Coast Guard’s Maritime Enforcement Specialist ‘A’ School in North Carolina before retiring in July, said the Coast Guard is already at least 20-30 swimmers short of where it would like to be, and ideally would have about 380 active swimmers. Additionally, there are at least 30 of the Coast Guard’s 800 rescue pilots who are seeking exemptions.

“Most have submitted their accommodations and are waiting for an answer, but the information that they’re receiving has been varied, as has been the timeline,” Kroll said. “The response too, in regards to religious accommodations, has been varied as well. Some have heard that they may have a good chance, others have heard that it will be no’s across the board.”

Two active swimmers who are seeking an exemption confirmed Kroll’s estimate of at least 60 swimmers who wish to avoid vaccination, virtually all for religious exemptions. Many active servicemembers are being told they will not receive a medical exemption unless they have had an adverse reaction to another vaccine in the past, multiple individuals have told the Daily Caller. (RELATED: Vaccine Mandate Enforcement Threatens To Create A Second Economic Crisis)

Kroll said that around 80% of the swimmers he’s spoken with are “hard no’s,” meaning that if they aren’t granted an exemption, they will opt to leave the force rather than comply with an order to be vaccinated. A loss of dozens of rescue swimmers could severely hamper the operational capabilities of the elite unit, which is critical in rescue operations around the United States.

“At the low end it’s going to be around 18 months” to train a new rescue swimmer, Kroll said. The 60 swimmers seeking an exemption represent nearly 20% of the total active in the Coast Guard.

In addition to those 60, and the pre-existing shortage of 20-30 more swimmers, there are around 20-30 retirements schedule among the force in the next year as well, Kroll said. And to make matters worse, the school used to train new swimmers is currently out of commission. (RELATED: ‘We Will Be Replacing People’: NY Gov. Says Healthcare Workers Who Won’t Take The Vaccine Will Get The Boot)

“The [training] facility is currently closed for repairs, so there’s another element that is going to detract from the Coast Guard’s ability to push out more helicopter rescue swimmers,” Kroll said. “So you’ve got 20-30 retirements next year, you’ve got 60 guys that have submitted religious accommodations… and we’re already 20-30 short, and now you’ve got a school that’s inoperable.”

Those who aren’t “hard no’s” are facing difficult decisions, as a failure to comply could mean the end of their military careers. “You have spouses that may be stay-at-home moms that may have to start picking up extra work if their members are discharged … a negative discharge may impact the future employment options of the member, and the cost incurred with a move from an unexpected separation, those are the impacts on the members if their religious accommodations get denied,” Kroll said.

“Those that remain in, with a shortage of personnel, you’re looking at increased maintenance load in the shop, increased duty standing, which means less time at home with family, increased training and operational flights, there’s training quotas that we have to meet, and on top of that you have the operational demands, the search and rescue cases that they get launched on at all hours of the day,” he added. “So that’s gonna fall on a smaller group of individuals, pilots, helicopter rescue swimmers.”

The added stress on the entire operation may have disastrous consequences. “There’s gonna be a fatigue that’s associated with that. People are gonna get tired. When you get tired, mistakes start happening. God forbid, that fatigue lead to what we would call a mishap,” Kroll said. “In a situation like in a hurricane in the gulf… if you eliminate pilots, flight mechanics, rescue swimmers from these units, that’s gonna diminish their ability to support those types of operations where there’s a heavy lift.”

President Joe Biden announced in September all federal employees would have to be vaccinated after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on why natural immunity is not being considered in medical accommodations for troops, how many servicemembers are seeking exemptions or what disciplinary actions will be pursued against individuals who do not comply with a lawful order to get vaccinated.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby suggested in August that troops who do not want to get vaccinated may require counseling and further education.