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US Army restricted unvaccinated soldiers from official travel, documents show

FOX News logo FOX News 8/16/2022 Houston Keene,Elizabeth Heckman
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FIRST ON FOX: The U.S. Army restricted unvaccinated soldiers from engaging in any official travel without express approval from the upper echelons of the Army.

Fox News Digital exclusively obtained a pair of U.S. Army fragmentary orders (FRAGOs) from multiple sources detailing COVID-19 guidance issued on July 8 and 19, 2022.

The FRAGO orders issued on July 8 include a bolded update from June 16, 2022, that reminded soldiers of the guidance prohibiting unvaccinated soldiers, even those with or awaiting a vaccine exemption, from engaging in official travel without "prior-approval" from Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo.

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The U.S. Army under President Biden banned unvaccinated soldiers from traveling for at least three days. Getty Images © Getty Images The U.S. Army under President Biden banned unvaccinated soldiers from traveling for at least three days. Getty Images

"UNVACCINATED SOLDIERS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR OFFICIAL TRAVEL WITHOUT PRIOR-APPROVAL FROM THE UNDER SECRETARY OF THE ARMY," the June 16 update read. "From the Army G-1: This is a reminder to the field that IAW FRAGO 22 to HQDA EXORD 225-21, Soldiers who are unvaccinated for COVID-19 are not eligible for official travel (any travel on an order published by the government, including TDY, PCS, no cost PCS, low-cost PCS, and intra-post transfers) without prior approval from the Under Secretary of the Army."

"This requirement for prior-approval from the Under Secretary includes Soldiers who have an approved COVID-19 vaccination exemption (See Annex VVVV below), pending an exemption request or appeal, disapproved exemption request, or vaccine refusals," the update continued.

"As an exception, prior-approval for official travel is not required for travel related to separations and processing, retirement, redeployments, and HRC approved compassionate actions," it added.

The July 19 FRAGO removed the bolded text that prohibited unvaccinated soldiers from traveling for three days while maintaining an order barring unvaccinated soldiers awaiting exemptions from Camarillo – including religious exemptions – from engaging in a permanent change of station (PCS).

However, according to the June 16 update, the ban on unvaccinated soldiers traveling for official business came from FRAGO 22 – which appeared to still be in effect based on its inclusion in both documents' titles.

"IAW Annex MMMM, unvaccinated Soldiers who are pending medical or administrative exemption (to include religious accommodation) will not conduct a permanent change of station (PCS)," the July 19 FRAGO reads. "Exceptions may only be approved by the Under Secretary of the Army."

"These requests will be submitted to the Under Secretary of the Army through the Vice Director of the Army Staff. Refer to paragraph 3.d.15.b.2. For advanced approval for travel," it continues. "Further, unvaccinated Soldiers who do not have a pending medical or administrative exemption (to include religious accommodation) remain flagged and are therefore ineligible to PCS under current Army policies and in accordance with Annex YYY."

A new order, FRAGO 29, has since been released, according to sources familiar, but it is unclear how or whether the new orders alter the previous ones obtained by Fox News Digital. 

By requiring unvaccinated soldiers to get under secretary approval for a PCS, the Army is giving soldiers an ultimatum: either get vaccinated or they don't get a promotion that requires changing stations, unless they receive prior approval from the upper echelons of the service.

The Army can also put soldiers' careers on pause by flagging them, preventing the soldiers from receiving pay raises, advancements and promotions until the flag is lifted.

Additionally, the orders prevent unvaccinated National Guard soldiers from attending drills, which can threaten both their paychecks and retirement track.

"Effective 1 July 2022, members of the ARNG/ARNGUS and USAR who do not comply with Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccination requirements may not participate in drills, training and other duty conducted under title 10 or Title 32, U.S. Code or receive payment or retirement credit for such duty unless subsequently becoming fully vaccinated or otherwise having a pending or approved medical or administrative exemption (to include religious accommodation). By exception, service members who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and not currently pending an exemption, may be placed into a duty status that could include compensation and retirement credit after 30 June 2022 for the limited purpose of allowing the service member to participate in any required activities related to the administration of related exemption requests and separation procedures." 

When asked for comment on the FRAGOs, the Department of Defense (DOD) pointed Fox News Digital toward the Army.

The Army shared a press release from April 2020 about previous COVID-19 guidance – that was written months before the vaccine was even created – and pointed Fox News Digital back toward the DOD for more information on the policies, as the department sets them.

The Army also denied the documents obtained by Fox News Digital were legitimate but confirmed that unvaccinated soldiers were not allowed to engage in a PCS without the under secretary's prior approval. The spokesperson also pointed to new DOD guidance marking PCS travel as "mission-critical."

The new guidance still limits unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated soldiers to mission-critical travel.

"Since the vaccine mandate went into effect, Soldiers pending medical or administrative exemptions, including religious accommodations, have been able to conduct [a] permanent change of station travel with advance approval by the under secretary of the Army," an Army spokesperson told Fox News Digital.

"This week, however, the Department of Defense updated its travel policy, and Army leaders are reviewing DoD’s policy to determine what impacts, if any, these changes may have on Army policy," the spokesperson continued.

The spokesperson did not specify when the policy requiring under secretary approval to engage in a PCS went into effect.

However, multiple sources were able to access the FRAGO and verify its authenticity to Fox News Digital.

Fox Digital spoke with Jim Carafano regarding the FRAGOs. Carafano is vice president of the Heritage Foundation's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.

Carafano said that, although he understands the need to push vaccines for "operational readiness," the Biden administration has a "track record" for pushing the COVID-19 vaccine to establish a "political narrative." He also noted how he believes this in part has resulted in a loss of confidence in military policies when military recruitment has become "very difficult." 

In his 25 years in military service and 40 years working alongside the military, Carafano said he has never seen a policy like this one and stated that it looks more "punitive than operational" and seems like they are "persecuting military members."

Several Republican House members had thoughts on the FRAGOs, with Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Michael Waltz of Florida, Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, and Mark Green of Tennessee eviscerating the military guidance in statements to Fox News Digital. 

Roy said the "Biden administration's goal is crystal clear: ending the career of any soldier who dares not comply, regardless of approved religious exemptions."

"This is an obvious, purposeful effort to ideologically cleanse our military, and it is a brazen assault on the fundamental rights of those who defend our liberty and this republic," Roy continued.

"Republicans in Congress need to grow a spine, stop punting this to the courts, defend this, and make this stop once and for all," the Texas congressman added.

Rep. Chip Roy sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc © Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc Rep. Chip Roy sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc

Waltz, the first Green Beret elected to Congress and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Readiness, told Fox News Digital the FRAGOs put a "scarlet letter" on unvaccinated service members.

The Florida congressman and National Guard member also said he has not "heard that the Army has shifted its stance" on the orders.

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"Unvaccinated soldiers are allowed to travel, they are allowed to move. But it has to go to extraordinary high level of visibility and approval for them to do so," Waltz said.

Rep. Michael Waltz said the FRAGOs restricting unvaccinated soldiers from traveling without prior approval from the Army under secretary pins a "scarlet letter" on them. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images © Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images Rep. Michael Waltz said the FRAGOs restricting unvaccinated soldiers from traveling without prior approval from the Army under secretary pins a "scarlet letter" on them. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

"And I have to tell you, having been in the Army for 26 years, having the fact that you want to go to on a trip because you're unvaccinated and go all the way up through multiple chains, the command battalion, brigade, division, Department of the Army, all the way to the under secretary of the Army," Waltz said, "it was like pinning a scarlet letter on a soldier."

Waltz said he didn't know if the Army's "intent" was to "shame" soldiers into getting a vaccine, but noted the high chain-of-command requirements for unvaccinated travel "minimizes the gravity of what they're doing."

Miller-Meeks, a 24-year Army veteran and former military doctor, made several points on the Army FRAGOs, telling Fox News Digital that currently "people can travel by bus without showing proof of vaccination, so vaccination status shouldn't preclude a soldier from traveling."

"Immunity can be conferred by vaccination or infection acquired disease (previous COVID infection) for which one can be tested," Miller-Meeks said. "Medical guidance through HHS, CDC and AMEDD to reflect current research indicating robust immunity subsequent to infection."

Miller-Meeks said that "current research also indicated that vaccinated individuals can become infected and transmit COVID-19" and asked if "mandatory vaccination except for high-risk individuals is a reasonable policy."

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"Army, CDC and medical policy should reflect the most current data," Miller-Meeks said. "As we have seen with President Biden, even though vaccinated and boosted, he still tested positive."

The 24-year Army veteran said "it is not unusual for exemptions from vaccinations to be granted on medical or religious grounds in the military" but that she has "heard from service members that there are much FEWER exemptions granted in the case of COVID-19."

Miller-Meeks said it "seems discriminatory to prevent a service member from a change of duty station or temporary duty assignment solely on the basis of vaccination status while awaiting status of exemption" and that "not allowing PCS while awaiting exemption declaration can be interpreted that no exemption will be granted and the service member will be unwillingly discharged from the military."

"There are valid medical reasons for young men and women to be hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine given validated risks of myocarditis and pericarditis in young men, which can be serious, permanent and even fatal, and menstrual irregularity in young women," Miller-Meeks said.

"Even the most recent variant has proven to be infectious but hasn’t led to surge of hospitalization, ICU admission or death, which to me indicates we are at an endemic stage of the pandemic and vaccine mandates, especially when the vaccinated can still transmit the virus soon after vaccination, do not seem to prevent transmission," the former Army doctor continued. "The vaccine immunity or infection acquired immunity does help prevent serious illness and death in the at-risk population."

Green, a combat veteran and the physician who oversaw Saddam Hussein during his first night in captivity, emphasized the "grave national security threat" posed by the Army's guidance and blasted the COVID-19 orders as "political theater."

"This latest guidance coming out of the Department of Defense is shameful. It is unconscionable that our brave men and women, who put their lives on the line each day, are first being told that they are not eligible for official travel, and told they are unable to move bases if they’re awaiting a vaccine exemption," Green told Fox News Digital.

"This political theater is a disgrace to my brothers and sisters in arms who serve us, not to mention a grave national security threat," Green added.

The FRAGOs further illustrate the side of the Biden administration that demands compliance from their service members while potentially risking U.S. defense capabilities.

Requiring soldiers to go through the under secretary of the Army for exemption approval also forces the service members to go through nearly the entire chain of command to get an exemption.

These decisions by the Army may affect military readiness as more soldiers who have a valid reason to be exempt from the vaccine requirements are forced out of the military.

The FRAGOs come as the U.S. military struggles heavily to recruit new service members.

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