‘Heartbreaking to end awesome career:’ USAF officer to be booted after ten years of service for refusing COVID vaccine

News

Mitchell Willetts

McClatchy Washington Bureau

A husband, father and Air Force captain in Oklahoma is reportedly facing discharge for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Cpt. Daniel Knick told TV station KOKH that he and his family stand to lose a lot if that happens, but he isn’t changing his mind.

“It’s heartbreaking to end an awesome career that way,” Knick said.

And that ending comes at a bad time for his family, according to a recent Facebook post by his wife.

“My husband and I and our four young children have been put through so much stress over these past few months,” Knick’s wife wrote in a recent Facebook post. “We prepared the kids for yet another move after only being here for one year and having just purchased our first home almost exactly a year ago.”

Stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, near Oklahoma City, Knick said he is okay with sacrificing his 10-year career if it means he can avoid coronavirus vaccination — which he tried and failed to stave off by applying for a religious exemption, KOKH reported.

Tinker Air Force Base did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment.

Branches of the U.S. military began announcing requirements for members to get vaccinated in September 2021, with many setting deadlines that ended before 2022. Exemptions can be made on religious grounds or for medical reasons.

How, exactly, the COVID-19 vaccine violates Knick’s religious beliefs is not clear, though faith-based objections have been recognized in certain cases.

“I put my faith and trust in God completely with everything to include my own children, my family, my health [and] my welfare,” Knick told KFOR.

When his religious exemption was denied, he applied for a voluntary separation, the outlet reported. That was denied as well.

Mandatory vaccinations are nothing new in America’s armed forces — the Department of Defense administers up to 17 of them depending on where a service member will be located. COVID-19 vaccines are just the latest in a long list that includes the chickenpox vaccine and the annual influenza shot.

While officials say the vast majority of service members have complied with the mandates, others have been kicked out of various branches for refusal.

The risk posed by an outbreak of coronavirus in the military ranks is too great and too consequential to be taken lightly, officials say.

“COVID-19 poses a direct risk to the health, safety and readiness of the force,” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said in an official memo. “Vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components of the Air Force and Space Force to ensure we maintain a healthy force that is mission ready.”

On March 14, Knick received a letter of reprimand, he told KFOR. The chances of him exiting the Air Force with an honorable discharge aren’t looking good, he said, adding that any form of discharge other than “honorable” carries consequences.

“Exactly what I’m facing right now…a letter of reprimand, loss and potential loss of benefits, you know, a characterization that could be other than honorable. It can be a not so good circumstance. But the reality of the matter is, if you have a conviction, those circumstances really pale in comparison,” Knick said.

Despite the difficulties likely to come, Knick’s wife expressed support for his actions — as well as doubts about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, which medical experts say are safe and effective at helping reduce transmission and severity of the virus.

“He swore to defend the constitution and he is doing that the only way he can,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “He is standing up against this mandate and our government.”

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