President Biden said it himself: the pandemic is over. So why is his Department of Defense (DoD) willing to look at the brave men and women who volunteered to serve our nation and say, “you’re fired” – all because they chose not to get the COVID shot?
In the United States, the number of new servicemembers joining the military has reached a record low. Every single branch struggled to hit its recruitment goals this year, including the U.S. Army, which fell 10,000 soldiers short. At this rate, they will face a deficit of 21,000 soldiers next year. The National Guard also missed the mark by about 12,000 recruits, and expects to discharge up to 14,000 more by 2024 for refusing the COVID shot.
Targeting servicemembers with political mandates, especially at a time like this, is beyond absurd. Our National Guardsmembers provide unparalleled support during disasters and other times of need. Just two months ago, roughly 1,200 Soldiers and Airmen from the Tennessee National Guard answered the call to serve Floridians in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Last month, a group of Guardsmembers responded to wildfires in Warren County, and in July, members of Nashville’s 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion aided with rescue efforts following the deadly flooding in Kentucky. Without them, local first responders would have been overwhelmed.
Not only does the military’s COVID shot mandate result in a shameful waste of talented manpower, it is also a massive abuse of money and resources. On average, it costs $15,000 to recruit one soldier into the U.S. Army and an additional $50,000 to $75,000 to train them for their first unit. Every time a servicemember is unwillingly discharged, the DoD throws taxpayer dollars out the window.
While we’re depleting our ranks, the New Axis of Evil grows bolder by the day. Communist China is on its way to becoming a new superpower. Under President Xi’s direction, the Chinese Navy is expected to increase its fleet by nearly 40% between now and 2040 and quadruple its nuclear stockpile by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, Iran has publicly admitted to supplying the Kremlin with drones and equipment to kill innocent Ukrainians, and this year North Korea conducted its first-ever ballistic missile test.
Tennesseans are tremendously concerned with how Democrats in Washington have answered our adversaries’ increasing belligerence by putting servicemembers and their families on the back burner. For 61 years in a row, Congress has passed the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which provides our men and women in uniform with the resources they need to fight and win. But this year, Chuck Schumer and my Democratic colleagues have yet to show a sense of urgency about getting it across the finish line. By doubling down on the COVID shot mandate, and then delaying the NDAA until the 11th hour for no reason, the Democrats have sent a message to our servicemembers, citizens, allies and enemies that investing in our country’s continued security and strength is not a priority.
Earlier this year, I introduced two measures to the NDAA that would have helped protect U.S. servicemembers from the COVID shot mandate. The first measure would have prohibited involuntary separation of any servicemember for refusing the COVID-19 shot until our military has the manpower required to beat our adversaries. The second would have allowed members of the National Guard or Reserve to keep their pay and benefits while their request for an accommodation is pending. Unfortunately, the Democrats blocked them, but my colleagues will have another opportunity to do the right thing. I have turned those amendments into a bill, the Preserving the Readiness of our Armed Forces Act, and it’s ready for their support.
Now is not the time to drag our servicemembers into a political battle. Now is the time to bolster our national defense. The New Axis of Evil is threatening the safety and security of the United States and our freedom-loving partners across the globe, and our military must remain ready to respond. I will continue the fight for our servicemembers and their families who support our national security mission at home and abroad. It’s time for every leader in Washington to do the same.