The Covid-19 vaccine requirement for military service members is hopefully nearing its end after the House of Representatives bipartisanly passed the National Defense Authorization Act with a provision to repeal the mandate last Thursday.
The news is a win for a handful of congressional Republicans who have been diligently fighting the military mandate. For many service members, though, it marks a weary and hopeful end to over a year of battling unelected bureaucrats for their right to bodily autonomy. Noncompliant military members have suffered with lost retirement, benefits, and health insurance. Others have reportedly been vaccine injured or discharged.
Until the mandate is officially axed, which won’t be for another 30 days after it’s voted on in the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, many unvaccinated servicemen continue to be disrespected, harassed, and punished by military bureaucrats.
Enter Lt. Col. Michael Berry, a father of four with 18 years of military service and one of the countless victims of Biden’s vaccine tyranny. Berry was inspired to join the United States Marine Corps nearly two decades ago because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and from 2009-2012 he served as an adjunct professor of law at the United States Naval Academy. Before this year, Berry served in the Marine Corps Reserve as a senior appellate litigation attorney.
When the Marine Corps issued its Covid-19 vaccine mandate in 2021, Berry applied for a religious exemption with the written support of his immediate commander. Berry explained to The Federalist that “because of the nature of appellate practice in the Marine Corps, reservist appellate counsel are authorized to work remotely, a policy that long predates Covid.” In fact, Berry has had “no physical contact with any member of [his] unit since 2019.”
Despite the uniquely remote nature of Berry’s job, he was still denied his exemption in February of this year. Berry promptly appealed the decision but has so far received no updates. His exemption status remains “pending.”
In July, several months after he made his appeal, Berry was hand-picked to teach a class for the Marine Corps lawyers at Naval Justice School as part of his reserve duties. Three days before his flight, however, Berry received a notification that his travel orders had been “modified.” After contacting the personnel support department, he was informed he had been transferred to “inactive status.” According to Berry, he was given “no warning or notice that this would happen.”
Punished for Refusing the Jab
Inactive status triggered several serious consequences for Berry and his family. First, since he was immediately removed from his unit, Berry involuntarily severed the attorney-client relationships he had formed without any opportunity to find replacement counsel. “If you know anything about law and ethics and professional responsibility, you can’t do that,” said Berry. “You have to have the consent of the client to terminate the attorney-client relationship.” Second, Berry can’t perform his job as a reservist, which means he isn’t able to earn credit toward his retirement and receives no pay or benefits.
Third, Berry lost his TriCare, the military health insurance his family “relies upon.” One of Berry’s four children, whom he and his wife adopted from China, “has special needs and requires pretty expensive medical supplies” that were usually covered under Berry’s military health insurance. “My entire family was — without notice or warning — dropped from TriCare and left scrambling to find health insurance,” Berry said.
The Pentagon advised Berry to look for another reserve job to provide for his family, so he applied to about six different alternatives. The Pentagon’s “advice” turned out to be, in Berry’s words, “a wild goose chase.” Every time Berry applied for a position, he was denied and eventually learned that none of the positions to which he was instructed to apply would even consider him until he received the jab or an exemption. “If I were to speculate,” said Berry, “I think [the Pentagon] was just kicking the can down the road. Basically, they didn’t want to have to deal with me.”
Questioning the Loyalty of the Unvaxxed
Berry characterized the mandate as an “ideological litmus test.” For proof, he shared with The Federalist a disturbing email that has been “circulat[ing] within the Marine Corps legal community.” In it, the deputy director for the USMC Judge Advocate Division (the second-highest-ranking lawyer in the Marine Corps) said that unvaccinated Marines, like Berry, “may have interests adverse to the United States.” How exactly Berry and other military members’ vaccination status has anything to do with their loyalty to the United States remains unclear.
When asked how the email made him feel, Berry said he was shocked his “patriotism and loyalty to the United States” are in question. Contrasting the email with his love for America, Berry stated: “When I did a combat deployment in Afghanistan, I had already made my peace with God if I ever needed to sacrifice my life in service to my nation. I viewed that as a noble thing. It’s not what I wanted to happen, but I was prepared for it. I was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.”
“When I think about what’s happened, not just to me, but the tens of thousands across all the branches of the military, how we’ve been treated, and how we’ve been stigmatized, it’s heartbreaking,” Berry added.
“I still believe in the United States, I still believe in our military, and I still believe in our Marine Corps. I just feel like our leadership has lost its way,” Berry remarked, adding that “the vaccine is just a manifestation of a much larger problem.” It is a symptom of “all the woke ideology that’s taking over the military, whether it’s critical race theory, whether it is introducing drag queen story hours at elementary schools that are on base, whether it is teaching that white supremacy is the greatest threat to national security, or it’s a vaccine mandate.”
Even though Berry has hope for the Armed Forces and the United States, which he still believes is “the best country on Earth,” that doesn’t negate the abuse the Pentagon has inflicted on him and his family and countless other service members for refusing the jab. The persecution of unvaxxed military personnel is emblematic of much greater, deep-seated problems within the United States military that unfortunately will not end with the mandate’s repeal.