Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Faces Uncertain Future After Religious Objection to Vaccine Mandate

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The U.S. Coast Guard looks set to lose some of its most qualified and experienced Coasties, including many of its esteemed—and incredibly necessary—rescue swimmers as a result of the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate.

As of Oct. 18, the Coast Guard has received 1,250 religious accommodations requests, according to a media spokesperson. Only 12 have been approved and 1,238 have been denied.

What’s more, the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers, known as aviation survival technicians, are severely short-staffed at 89 percent capacity, according to a recently retired senior rescue swimmer. Anything below 95 percent is considered critical.

This situation is set to worsen should the Coast Guard discharge the near 20 rescue swimmers currently refusing the shot due to their faith, according to Aviation Survival Technician (AST1) Anthony Gills (a pseudonym). He has almost 20 years of Coast Guard service, serving as a helicopter rescue swimmer for over 15 years.

Gills is unvaccinated, having objected to the mandate for religious reasons. He spoke to The Epochs using a pseudonym for fear of reprisals.

“It’s the unknown of what’s going to happen to me from day to day that leaves me with a sense of anxiety, the feeling that I don’t know what I’m going to walk into on any given day,” he said.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve stood the watch, responded on numerous SAR [search and rescue] cases, deployed to the Bahamas, and participated in response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Ian,” Gills said.

“I know the job I have to do and I do it to the best of my ability, but it’s the element of the unknown part of my future that keeps me on edge, not knowing what kind of paperwork or message is going to come down that’s going to have an effect on the job I love to do.”

When the military’s vaccine mandate was announced in August 2021, Gills said, service members were informed of their right to file for religious accommodation. But, “After some time, many requests for coming back denied.”

Denials were nearly identical as if the Coast Guard was using a template, he said. “The only differences were our names and the specific jobs we do, so each of us waiting expected the same thing.” Inevitably, Gills’s appeal of the Coast Guard’s decision to separate him also came back denied. Having requested to retire at 20 years, he finds himself waiting for approval to do so.

“It’s that unknown that puts an undue amount of stress not only on myself, but my family—my wife and two children,” Gills said. “I could potentially lose my pension and all of my benefits I worked so hard for the last 19 plus years,” he added.

According to Gills, “What’s not being said about this entire ordeal is that we have a right to refuse the vaccination that’s protected by the statutes of the law and under the Constitution that we raise our right and took an oath to defend against enemies, foreign and domestic.”

“We not only have a choice, but we have an obligation to stand up for what we believe is right by our faith, which gives us the ability to reject what the unlawful [mandate],” he added.

Yet, unvaccinated Coasties are considered non-deployable. Many, however, have been deployed for hurricane relief and border security. As a rescue swimmer, Gills said, “when people are in a dire situation and needing help, whether or not I’m vaccinated is the last thing on their mind.”

“I really don’t think they care given what we know now from the science and everything that’s come out about this shot, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “The shot has a growing list of side effects and does not protect or prevent the spread of COVID.”

It is Gills’s desire to remain at his current duty station until he’s able to retire in July 2023. His attorney, R. Davis Younts, said, “[Gills’s] desire is to serve, and his religious faith should not disqualify him from future service, particularly where the Coast Guard has engaged in a pattern of religious discrimination and hostility towards the Christian faith.”

Gills emphasized his view do not reflect those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.

Hurting Beyond the Jab

Rocky Rogers, a Coast Guard IT Chief with over 20 years of service, submitted his request to retire in August 2020, which allowed him to retire this past August. According to Rogers, the Coast Guard is changing rapidly in more ways than just the vaccine mandate.

“I was one supervisor out of nine that dealt with transgenders in the Coast Guard,” he said. As a Christian, Rogers believes in two sexes: male and female. “There were scenarios where I needed help from my command or from medical staff, but they were unable to give advice or support,” he said.

“For example, nobody of rank wanted their name to be associated with any administrative action or any kind of reprimand [of] a person who concluded they couldn’t come to work, because they didn’t feel good because of all the [gender-transition] drugs they were on.” Standing by his faith, he decided in 2018 to leave the Coast Guard and begin the two-year process of retirement.

With the added burden of COVID-19 spreading in 2020 and the subsequent mandate in 2021, Rogers said he knew his retirement was “just meant to be.” Even though he was approved for retirement, he was still pressured to take the vaccine. Instead, he sought religious accommodation, which was initially denied.

Upon receiving the denial, Rogers appealed the decision, largely due to his approved retirement. Coast Guard regulations state that those with an approved retirement were in receipt of an administrative exemption to the mandate. But even with this official notification, Rogers’ command said that he had to adhere to the mandate, he said.

“By the definition of accommodation, one would expect to find a common ground,” Rogers said. “However, the Coast Guard made it clear that if you’re unvaccinated then getting you out is the only path forward.”

Although the unvaccinated are considered “not worldwide deployable,” Rogers said, “they are still sent [under] Temporary Duty [TDY] to operational units to assist with the Coast Guard mission.” According to him, many operational cutters (commissioned vessels) are experiencing the brunt of staffing issues and are now using TDY orders to meet the “minimum manning” in order to go on deployment.

Rogers said he is also aware of Coast Guard reservist members who refused the vaccine and were expected to be processed out on Nov. 1. However, the date has been extended to Dec. 1. According to Rogers, “they want to pull these people into hurricane [Ian] relief operations and [southern] border security.”

“These members of the Coast Guard are being used for the month, only to be kicked out right before the holidays,” he said. “And that angers me.”

As members of the Coast Guard prepare for separation, Rogers said he keeps in touch with many of them, making his best attempt to “help people stay positive in this time of uncertainty.”

The Coast Guard did not return requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

J.M. Phelps

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J.M. Phelps is a writer and researcher of both Islamist and Chinese threats. He’s on Twitter at @JMPhelpsLC



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