- TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Bettendorf
will be discharged "under other than honorable conditions" for
disobeying a direct order to take the anthrax immunization.
- This decision by Lt. Gen. John B. Sams
Jr., 15th Air Force commander, terminates the court-martial that was pending
- The case came to Sams for disposition
after Bettendorf requested to be discharged instead of being tried by
a special court-martial. Bettendorf chose to make this request knowing
that he could receive the worst possible administrative discharge an airman
can get. In documents forwarding the case to Sams for action, the 60th
Air Mobility Wing, which initiated the court-martial, supported Bettendorf's
- Bettendorf, an aerospace ground equipment
specialist with the 815th Air Mobility Squadron, faced possible conviction
for disobeying the lawful order of his commander. To protect Bettendorf
and other members of the 815th from anthrax, a deadly biological warfare
agent, the squadron commander directed them to begin the six-shot anthrax
vaccination series late last year. The Department of Defense implemented
the vaccination program to protect American service members from the known
anthrax threat. In December, Bettendorf refused to start the shots, even
after being ordered to do so by his commander.
- Bettendorf accepted nonjudicial punishment
under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for this misconduct.
He has noted in interviews that as punishment he was demoted one grade,
given 45 days extra duty and reprimanded.
- Because Bettendorf's duties required
him to be protected with the anthrax vaccine, his commander followed up
the earlier punishment with another order in late December. When Bettendorf
allegedly refused to obey the second order to submit to the anthrax vaccination
program, the commander brought court-martial charges against him Jan.
19. The charge was initially referred to a summary court-martial, the
least serious form of court-martial. When Bettendorf objected to that
forum, the case was sent to a special court-martial. His trial had been
set for March 16.
- Under military rules, a member facing
court-martial may ask command to consider an administrative discharge
instead of trial. Approval of such requests is entirely within command's
discretion. Air Force guidance notes that individuals separated in lieu
of a special court-martial normally are discharged under other-than-honorable
conditions for "misconduct during the current enlistment (that)
constitutes a significant departure from the conduct expected of airmen."
- Airmen discharged in this way are barred
from joining the National Guard or the Reserves. Another consequence
of this type of discharge is that significant veteran's benefits can be
denied, such as GI Bill, home-loan guarantees and vocational rehabilitation.
The agency that administers the benefits makes an eligibility determination
in each case.
- The anthrax inoculation program is one
of the many force-protection measures used by the U.S. military to maximize
the safety and well being of personnel who serve in numerous locations
around the world.
- The 815th AMS, Bettendorf's unit here
is part of the 615th Air Mobility Operations Group. The 615th's mission
is to rapidly deploy personnel to many of these austere trouble spots.
Often the "first in and last out," they provide critical en
route support for the aircraft which transport and sustain U.S. forces.
- No other individuals in the 615th refused
to get the anthrax shots and all other assigned personnel required to
get the shots have done so.
- "General Sams has total confidence
in the DOD program to vaccinate and protect our troops against anthrax,"
noted Col. Dave Thomas, senior legal advisor to Sams. "He has personally
received three of the six shots in the anthrax series. It takes 18 months
to complete the full series of six shots.
- "This request has been the general's
first opportunity to act on this case. His review focused on a measured
and just disposition of this airman's refusal to comply with a lawful
order, consistent with the maintenance of good order and discipline in
the Air Force," Thomas stated. "In the end, it was Bettendorf's
choice to refuse to comply with a lawful order that resulted in his service
being labeled as less than honorable."