EXCLUSIVE: A retired three-star Coast Guard vice admiral is publicly calling out the Biden administration’s “misguided” COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and says the mandate is leading to an unlawful “ideological purge.”
Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee, who served the Coast Guard for nearly 36 years including as Atlantic area commander before he retired in 2016, is circulating an open letter to his fellow Coast Guard flag officers Monday. The letter explains his reasoning for advocating publicly on behalf of seven Coast Guard cadets who have been terminated from the military due to their refusal to receive the coronavirus vaccine, despite seeking religious accommodations.
Lee said he has “never been anti-vaccine,” and has no issue with the decision made by operational commanders at the height of the pandemic to deem the vaccine mandatory, but he says “things have changed.”
“The American people have moved on. The President himself has declared ‘the Pandemic is over.’ Yet, we continue holding fast to an outdated mandate, purging hundreds of dedicated sailors, even though we struggle to meet our recruiting goals. It is now time to take a pause, reevaluate, and assess what this is costing readiness, the taxpayer, and the public perception of how we treat our people,” he wrote in the letter.
“To my esteemed colleague who made this missive necessary: Your words were no doubt sincere, but they are misguided,” wrote Lee. “The current course is not good for the country, the Coast Guard, or the mariners we serve.”
“When I first raised this issue, it was about cadets. Nothing more. Having been ignored, it is now a campaign for ALL of them – the entire spectrum of unvaxxed people who had the moral courage to stand by their religious convictions,” he explained. “These are good, dedicated, highly trained individuals that we have spent a ton of money to develop. People with up to 18 years of service, forced out, with no pension. Anyone willing to give up that, rather than break faith, is someone I admire.”
Lee told Fox News Digital Monday that he’s speaking up to bring attention to the issue and to hopefully get the Coast Guard, and other military branches, to take action to end the mandate.
“To me, this is an issue of national security. What I believe we’re seeing here is an ideological purge. This is just one way to get rid of people with ideologies that don’t match the current culture. We need people who have their moral compass set right,” Lee said.
“And when we’re getting rid of the very people who are so convicted, they’re willing to give up their jobs, and I’m talking about lifelong pensions… They’re willing to walk away from that rather than turn their back on their religious convictions. These are the kind of people we want to keep in the military, and yet we’re purging,” he continued.
“Right now is what is looks like is that they’re just throwing people off the ship,” said Lee.
The Pentagon’s watchdog circulated an internal memo, obtained by Fox News Digital last month, that states the agency is in “potential noncompliance” with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Lee called it “alarming,” and said that the legality of the mandate is “under scrutiny.”
“It’s harassment at the hands of a government that has overreached their constitutional rights,” Lee told Fox News Digital. “My hope is that my own organization will stand up and address this and take root within the other military branches.”
Members of the Coast Guard have been first to respond to Hurricane Ian’s devastation in Florida, including one rescue swimmer who was personally thanked by President Biden for his heroic efforts. However, that same service member is set to be discharged by the end of the year for remaining unvaccinated after raising a religious objection.
A spokesperson for the Coast Guard confirmed to Fox News Digital last month that it is in the process of discharging any members without approved exemption requests.
“At the height of the pandemic, restrictions on training, travel and leave were implemented in order to protect the Coast Guard workforce and the public. These restrictions were applicable to all Coast Guard members and were at no time focused on members who had filed or were awaiting decision on religious accommodation requests,” said the Coast Guard spokesperson.
“The Coast Guard is in the process of discharging all military members who do not have an approved medical or administrative exemption or religious accommodation, and who have not followed the order to become vaccinated,” the spokesperson continued.
The Coast Guard received over 1,200 accommodation requests and only accepted 12 total, all of whom were already in the process of retiring or separating from the military, plaintiff attorneys told Fox News Digital. That amounts to a 99% denial rate.
The vice admiral’s letter comes as other branches of the miliary are preparing for mass involuntary terminations of unvaccinated service members.
Unvaccinated Air Force pilots seeking religious accommodations to the vaccine mandate are still prohibited from flying, even as those with medical exemptions are allowed to perform their usual duties.
An Army spokesperson confirmed to Fox News Digital last week that unvaccinated soldiers, including those without an approved religious accommodation exemption, are “subject to certain adverse administrative actions.”