On Tuesday, February 8, the Air Force became the second military branch to grant religious exemption requests to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Information made available Tuesday is that the Air Force granted eight religious accommodations and one religious accommodation appeal, making the total nine, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told the Daly Caller News (DCNF) Foundation. 

Records show that a total of 5,786 airmen have submitted religious accommodation requests, since the Air Force issued a mandate in Early September of 2021. That decision followed a Department of Defense announcement in August of 2021 that all service members would be mandated to get the vaccination. The Air Force has rejected 3,665 exemption requests.

Stefanek said in a statement, “The Department of the Air Force determined the service members’ accommodations could be supported with no impact to mission readiness.” The Air Force has administratively separated 142 active-duty Airmen, as of February 7, Stefanek told the DCNF.

The Marine Corps made headlines when it became the first military branch to grant three religious exemptions last month. However, according to a letter sent to Representative Darrel Issa (R-CA), all three went to Marines who were,functionally, no longer serving.

In a letter dated January 21, J.J. Daily, the deputy legislative assistance in the Marines Corps’ Office of Legislative Affairs, wrote that “In two cases, the Marines are on terminal leave and in the other the Marine has transitioned into a 180-day training program in private industry.”

“The likelihood of their vaccination status impacting military readiness and health and safety was remote because the requestors are no longer serving with Marine Corps commands,” Daily wrote.

In the weeks since the military began separating troops for failing to comply with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the Marine Corps has consistently been the most aggressive branch, having removed 399 from the service.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps quietly made a subtle change to how it deals with vaccine refusing service members, making it easier for them to return.

In late December, the Corps released a message announcing it would discharge Marines with the reentry code RE-3P instead of RE-4. The distinction is significant. A discharge with a RE-4 code is typically a bar on reenlisting in any service, while the RE-3 code allows someone to reenlist with a waiver.

When asked about the change, Captain Ryan Bruce, a spokesman for the Marine Corps said, “If a Marine is willing to be vaccinated, even after separation, we would welcome him back.”

Bruce added, “the adjusted reentry code reduces the administrative burden and timeliness of that process.”

The Air Force is apparently less rigid in its separation policy. Stefanek told Military.Com in an email that “there is no pre-established reenlistment code for those separated for vaccine refusal. Each case is assessed on its own merits as is the discharge characterization.”

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