AF To Court Martial Airman
Who Refused Anthrax Vaccination
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (Reuters) - The Air Force will proceed with a court martial against a mechanic who has refused mandatory vaccination against anthrax, a base spokesman said Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Steven Roser, the commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing, reviewed the case against Airman 1st Class Jeff Bettendorf earlier this week and determined he should face a special court martial, Travis Air Force Base spokesman Maj. Mike Halbig said Wednesday.
Halbig said that, if found guilty, Bettendorf could face a maximum penalty ranging from six months confinement to demotion and punitive discharge.
Bettendorf, an aerospace equipment specialist, is one of a small but growing number of U.S. service members who object to Secretary of Defense William Cohen's order last May that all members of the military submit to inoculations against anthrax, a biological warfare agent.
Military officials say the vaccine, which has been in use since 1991, is completely safe and the only way to protect U.S. soldiers from biological attack in places like the Gulf.
But critics allege the vaccine has not been properly tested, with some even drawing connections between it and the mysterious illness known as Gulf War Syndrome.
Bettendorf, 25, refused an offer of a summary court martial, the lowest level of military court proceeding, declaring he wanted to put the issue before a jury of fellow soldiers. Halbig said that would now be scheduled.
Separately, at the Camp Pendleton Marine base near San Diego, about 20 Marines have refused to take the anthrax vaccine and some of them could face possible court martial, a base legal officer said.
Col. Jim Walker of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said that a number of them had already agreed to accept administrative punishment, but that a handful looked likely to follow Bettendorf into the military courts.
"Several cases are currently pending special court martial," Walker said, although he added that none were currently docketed for the court.