The Marine Corps faces a defining moment leading up to its Monday deadline for all Marines to have received a coronavirus vaccine, with reports of a significant number who have refused the shot clashing with the service’s meticulously crafted image as the military’s most disciplined fighting force – and its most potent.
Roughly 10,000 of its 186,000-strong active duty force are positioned to miss the deadline the Department of the Navy set for all Marines and sailors to become fully vaccinated, according to the latest data, representing the highest proportion of any of the military services potentially to violate direct orders from the chain of command.
Marine Corps headquarters has so far declined to say how many have applied for or been granted exemptions – a bureaucratic process to accommodate religious, medical or administrative concerns that has taken on outsized relevance in the age of coronavirus vaccine skepticism – or how it will punish those who outright refuse to receive the shot. A spokesman says it continues to study the scope of the issue.
But those with deep experience in the corps and its place in the wider military say it has already suffered from the initial refusals, with the potential for greater damage after next week.
“For decades the Marine Corps has been about the expeditionary force and readiness. ‘First to Fight,’ ‘Send the Marines’ – all those slogans about how they have to be ready to go on a moment’s notice,” says David Lapan, a former Marine Corps officer and later a spokesman for the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security.