Fort Rucker made headlines Wednesday and Thursday when leadership there said they would start to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for unmasked service members.
But the Alabama post, home to the Army’s warrant officer and aviation training programs, isn’t the first Defense Department installation to do this, according to guidance earlier this month from another Army post.
Current policy permits fully-vaccinated troops, civilians and contractors to go without a face mask on military bases. Unvaccinated personnel are still required to wear masks.
Any commander or supervisor can ask unmasked uniformed personnel about their vaccination status, not just those at Fort Rucker. The installation wasn’t the first to put out this guidance, either.
DoD issued updated force health protection directions on June 22 directly authorizing commanders to ask unmasked personnel about their vaccination status.
“In accordance with this guidance, unmasked, fully vaccinated service members should be prepared to show proof of vaccination (CDC vaccination card or other medical documentation),” said the announcement accompanying the guidance. “Service members and civilian employees who misrepresent their vaccination status may be subject to appropriate adverse administrative or punitive actions.”
Leaders cannot ask unmasked DoD civilian employees if they’ve received the vaccine unless “the supervisor has a reasonable basis to believe the unmasked employee has not been fully vaccinated, based on reliable evidence such as firsthand knowledge of voluntary employee statements.”
Fort Rucker, which issued its guidance on July 13, roughly three weeks after the DoD’s change in policy, wasn’t the first military installation to implement the policy after its announcement, either.
A July 1 order from Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart, Georgia, empowers “direct line supervisors” such as team leaders to ask unmasked soldiers about their vaccination status, in addition to compelling vaccinated troops to carry their shot record.
“Commanders and direct line supervisors may ask subordinates about whether they have been vaccinated in order to enforce this policy,” Costanza’s order reads. “All vaccinated [troops] shall maintain a copy of their...[vaccine card] in either hard copy or as a photo or document on their phone.”
Fort Stewart may not have been the first installation to update its rules governing vaccine card checks either — the DoD has hundreds of installations, and not all of them maintain public-facing pages where the information is readily accessible.
Many installations are also maintaining leave restrictions for unvaccinated personnel, which vaccinated troops can avoid by providing their shot records.
The DoD memorandum also states that “local commanders and supervisors may elect to establish more stringent guidelines for wearing masks.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.