Pentagon chief tests positive for COVID-19 – US military could face weakened combat ability due to vaccine mandate controversy
Published: Jan 03, 2022 06:04 PM
Lloyd Austin Photo: AFP

Lloyd Austin Photo: AFP

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed on Sunday he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has been fully vaccinated and received a booster in early October 2021. 
On the one hand, this breaking news shows that the coronavirus respects no borders and no people and has strong infectivity. However, Austin is a senior US military officer, whose infection reflects the lack of awareness of self-protection in the face of COVID-19. On the other hand, it demonstrates that a big problem within the US military is the still serious infection rate among troops. This clearly shows the overall disorganization and indiscipline within the US army. 
A vivid example was the single-day record of 235 COVID-19 cases among US forces in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture confirmed on Saturday. The loophole for such cluster infections lies in the US military's exemption of obligation for soldiers to submit to a COVID-19 test before they are sent to Okinawa, with the excuse that soldiers had already been vaccinated. The US' spurn of Japan's COVID-19 prevention requirements has resulted in the import of infections into the Asian country. 
According to the US Department of Defense's latest data updated on December 22, 2021, the DOD cumulative COVID-19 totals have surpassed 406,000 cases, with more than 261,000 cases in the military sector where 82 died due to the virus. It can be seen on the whole that the US military is not good at COVID-19 prevention and control at all levels of its organization - and thus the current epidemic situation on US soil is an inevitable result.
Why have so many American forces been infected? One reason is the above-mentioned lack of discipline and disrespect of relevant prevention requirements, especially among US military personnel deployed abroad. Besides, a large number of active-duty service members would rather be discharged than receive a vaccine. 
According to media reports, in mid-December 2021, the US Air Force discharged 27people for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine shots. This suggested a deep-rooted "liberal mentality" within the US military, which has led to an increase in cross-infection among military forces, although the DOD has mandated that all service members, including civilians, receive shots. 
The repeated infections within the US military will affect the US global deployment in two ways. First, it will weaken the combat and support capabilities of the stationed troops. Soldiers' refusal to get vaccinated will further drive up the risk of larger cluster infections. Besides, the US military's credibility will be undermined in the countries where it stations troops, as they have brought disasters not limited to COVID-19 infections to local people. Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida has recently protested and expressed his anger toward US military personnel for having conducted no coronavirus tests before coming to Japan. Japanese people's protests against US troops have also not been rare to see in the past years. 
Although the DOD said on December 21 that roughly 98 percent of the active-duty forces have received the COVID-19 vaccine shots, the public is not clear about the exact situation of vaccination within the military. However, we can see from the frequent cases on their warships and in their bases both at home and abroad that their ability to fight the virus is still relatively weak. 
Being vaccinated does not mean that infection will never occur, especially in the face of the new coronavirus variants, and the spread among those who still refuse to get vaccinated. The fact that quite a lot  American soldiers are infected mirrors that the seemingly high vaccination rate of the US military has limited practical effects.
When it comes to the response to COVID-19, especially whether to vaccinate or not, Americans, including military personnel, have different attitudes. Some people still believe the virus does not matter. Some even think that vaccines are evil and will pose harm to health. These people will not change their beliefs just because they are soldiers. That's why many people would rather leave the army instead of obeying the vaccine mandate. Maybe such a situation - a large number of soldiers who would rather leave the service than conform to orders and receive vaccination - could only occur in a country like the US. 
When American soldiers take oaths of enlistment, they say, "I will obey the orders of the President of the United States." But right now many of them are obviously betraying that oath. This is a unique characteristic of the US. 
The US military is now being confronted with many issues. The disagreement on whether to vaccinate will cause a brain drain in the US military: Some who do not accept being vaccinated are very experienced veterans. If they leave, the combat ability of the US military will surely suffer a big loss.

The author is a Chinese military expert and TV commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn