Airman's Court Maritial
Over Refusal To Take
Anthrax Shot Terminated
Air Force Print News (AFPN)
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 against Bettendorf.
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 request.
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."