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Navy won’t deploy destroyer over commander’s refusal to get vaccine

The U.S. Navy may be harming combat readiness over its refusal to deploy a ship over the commander’s vaccination status. Navy officials say a guided-missile destroyer will not be deployed because its commander has refused the COVID-19 vaccine.

The decision has been widely criticized by military experts, coming at a time of the highest tensions with Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Navy says the guided-missile destroyer is “out of commission” after a Florida federal judge ruled that the Navy and Marine Corps cannot remove its officer for being unvaccinated against COVID-19. The Navy is not identifying the destroyer.

The warship now remains docked in Norfolk, Virginia.

Merryday ruled on Feb. 2 to bar Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and all other military officials from taking punitive action against the unnamed Navy officer, who sought religious exemptions to the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Merryday wrote that the Navy’s rejection failed to note that the branch has separately granted hundreds of medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Navy officer was told he would be removed from command of his ship on Feb. 3 if he didn’t start a COVID-19 vaccination series.

Top military officials determined that the commander’s religious beliefs were sincere and that they would be “substantially burdened” by being forced to get vaccinated, but also claimed that granting the exemption request “would have a predictable and detrimental effect on the readiness of you and the Sailors who serve alongside you.”

On Feb. 28, the Navy asked Merryday for an emergency stay on the preliminary injunction, arguing that the judge’s ruling prevents it “from removing an officer from … commanding officer billets who the military has deemed unfit for command.”

“The order is an extraordinary intrusion upon the inner workings of the military that presents a direct and imminent threat to national security during a global military crisis, and it indefinitely sidelines a Navy warship,” the Navy said, according to court papers, Stripes and Stars reported.

“With respect to Navy Commander, the Navy has lost confidence in his ability to lead and will not deploy the warship with him in command,” the filing states.

Admiral Daryl Caudle filed a statement on Feb. 28 saying that the Navy “cannot have a Sailor who disobeys a lawful order to receive a vaccine because they harbor a personal objection any more than we can have a Sailor who disobeys the technical manual for operating a nuclear reactor because he or she believes they know better.”

Merryday on Thursday denied the U.S. Department of Defense’s request to halt the injunction, and accused the defense of attempting “to evoke the frightening prospect of a dire national emergency resulting from allegedly reckless and unlawful overreaching by the district judge.”

–Wire services