An Army First Lieutenant has been stuck in South Korea for over twenty months now for what was supposed to be a year long restricted (no family) tour, and he’s not alone. The Army has not allowed many soldiers to PCS who are currently stationed overseas and refused the EUA COVID-19 vaccine, and it’s taking a toll on not only the soldiers but their families back in the states as well.
1LT J was assigned to Korea on a one year unaccompanied tour and was scheduled to PCS (Permanent Change of Station) on December 16, 2021. Three weeks before he was set to PCS, he was informed of FRAGO 10 which stated that servicemembers overseas with a pending exemption would not be allowed to PCS without an exception to policy from the Undersecretary of the Army. His ETP was sent up the following month, yet nine months later he’s still heard nothing.
J has a wife and two small children back home; a five year old son and a fifteen month old daughter. He’s missed every moment of his daughter’s life so far to include her crawling, walking and even her first birthday. His daughter barely knows who he is.
J told me his wife’s mental health is deteriorating. Despite telling his command that his wife is struggling and telling them that she has mentioned harming herself from all of the stress this has caused, they claim their hands are tied, and there’s nothing they can do.
The irony in all of this is that while J is being told he’s a “risk to the force” due to his unvaccinated status, he’s still working as a Tactical Control Officer, or TCO. As a TCO, he works with THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), the only upper-tier missile defense weapon system in the KTO (Korean Theater of Operations). They’re the main effort in a real world mission, operating as part of a combined task force alongside their South Korean counterparts. He routinely flies on a CH-47 full of other soldiers while working and living in extremely close quarters with them.
In fact, J has been at a strategic tacsite for months. He shakes hands with General Officers on a regular basis. Just this past month he received coins from the USFK, USARPAC and ROKAF Commanding Generals, as well as the Korean Minister of Defense.
J has also been allowed to take leave to the exact place he’s not allowed to PCS to to see his family, but this has only been for weeks at a time. Despite being such a danger to society that’s he’s been held for close to a year past his reassignment date and not been allowed to move back to the states, he can still hop on a plane as long as it’s not a permanent move. J told me he feels lucky though because he’s spoken to several soldiers who have had their leave denied for being “unvaccinated.”
J is not alone though. I don’t have an exact number, but I know of at least several dozen other servicemembers and their families who have been cut off from one another now for several years, despite being allowed to see each other on approved leave. Many believe it’s due to old, outdated policies that haven’t caught up with existing CDC guidance, while others believe it’s because the DOD and its branches have created so much confusion with conflicting guidance that commanders are stumped as to what is permissible or not.
The thing is, J did reach out to his representative, Congressman Roger Williams of the 25th District of Texas, and after a Congressional Inquiry was told “there’s nothing we can do.”
Just before J was supposed to PCS last December, he and his wife bought a house in Texas (because he had orders to Fort Hood) and uprooted them away from their family. At twenty months, J has been away from his family longer than even the longest deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror.
The “forgotten” servicemembers in our DOD have been cast aside and ignored by their leadership and representatives. It’s impossible to look at the actions of the Army and DOD, in light of what we now know, and think that restrictions are anything other than punitive and vindictive. This isn’t about mission readiness or force health. Many of these families have suffered irreparable damage. The religious discrimination and psychological weight crushing down on these families who are torn apart is draconian and antithetical to all we’re supposed to stand for. While the Commander in Chief goes on TV to tell the world the pandemic is over, the DOD is continuing to tighten the screws on those who raised their right hand to serve their country for no other reason than the simple fact that they can.