U.S. Army Makes Exceptions To Anthrax Shots Rule
February 17, 2004
By THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, Courant Staff Writer
The U.S. Army has sent to Iraq at least four soldiers who have refused
to be vaccinated against anthrax, despite the Pentagon's long-held
insistence that the vaccine is mandatory for all service members
assigned to areas of combat or probable terrorism.
The deployments by base commanders in Indiana, Kentucky, New York and
Wisconsin has led Pentagon critics to question the seriousness of the
anthrax threat and the fairness of penalties meted out by the armed
services earlier for scores of service members nationwide who refused
"This is the first hint that a few courageous operational commanders are
beginning to exercise judgment, and are acknowledging what Pentagon
leaders will not - that the anthrax threat was simply political hype
that is no longer worth losing good soldiers over," John Richardson
Richardson is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and Gulf War
veteran who has been a leaders nationwide in seeking an end to the
"The questions raised are, number one, is the vaccine really necessary;
and, number two, whether the harsh penalties against the dissenters was
really fair," said state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who
conceded the military has broad discretion in decisions over whether to
punish service members. Several years ago, Blumenthal called for a
suspension of the vaccine program.
The program to vaccinate all 2.4 million service members, which started
in 1998, has been embroiled in controversy since former Defense
Secretary William Cohen ordered it.
The vaccine was initially licensed in 1970 for human skin contact with
infected animals, not for use against manufactured anthrax spores fired
or sprayed to disable and kill when breathed. The vaccine's reported
adverse reaction rate has jumped from 0.2 percent to 5 to 35 percent
since its wider use by the military.
"Unfortunately, other commanders are still willing to court-martial and
dishonorably discharge [those who refuse the vaccine] rather than risk
their next [command] promotion," Richardson said. He and others
challenging the vaccine argue it has been proven unsafe and illegal.
Three of the four soldiers were charged between December and January
with disobeying a direct order to take the vaccine, but the Army dropped
its prosecution in favor of deploying them. The fourth was charged over
a year ago before he was sent to Iraq. Decisions to drop the prosecution
in favor of deploying them were made by the soldiers' unit commanders in
conjuction with higher command headquarters.
One of the four deployed soldiers, an Ohio National Guardsman, had been
court martialed for refusing the order to take the vaccine, but his 40
days in the stockade, drop in rank and dishonorable discharge have been
put on hold while he serves in Iraq as a public affairs specialist.
Spec. Kurt Hickman got a reprieve earlier this year after a federal
judge in Washington, D.C., temporarily barred the military from
continuing any anthrax vaccinations. Hickman's penalty was put on hold
and he was reassigned to Camp Atterbury in Indiana, where he once again
was ordered to take the vaccine. He refused, and again was charged with
a refusal to obey a direct order. But, said Ohio National Guard
spokesman James Sims, the Camp Atterbury commander, Lt. Col. Kenneth D.
Newlin intervened and the charge was dropped.
Newlin allowed Hickman, a videographer, to be sent to Iraq with the
196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, part of the First Army.
Maj. Michael Brady, a spokesman for Camp Atterbury, said commanders now
"are looking at this [anthrax vaccination situation] on a case by case
Three other servicemen, one assigned to Fort Drum in New York, another
to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, and the
third to another First Army unit at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin were also
charged with insubordination for refusing the vaccine. In each case, the
charge was deferred indefinitely and the soldier was ordered to Iraq.
One of those, Sgt. Richard Norris, an eight-year Army veteran with the
101st, has already returned from a year's service in Iraq.
"I was refusing because of all the research I've done that it [the
vaccine] wasn't safe and it wasn't legal," Norris said. "I told them I
didn't want to avoid service overseas. They said, OK, you can be
deployed. ... Now I'm pretty frustrated with it, because since I refused
the shot, I've been pending punishment, and I haven't been able to go up
It could not be determined how many other service members who have
refused the vaccine have also been ordered to Iraq.
James Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the defense department collects
data only on those service members who refuse to take the vaccine and
are either disciplined and removed from the service, or resign to avoid
the drug. Those figures, say service members challenging the vaccine,
have been minimized by officials bent on hiding the problem
Asked why these particular service members were not prosecuted or
punished and scores of others were, Turner replied: "Military discipline
is a matter for the appropriate command. It would be totally
inappropriate for me to comment on these matters. I recommend that you
address your questions to the appropriate military departments."
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