The Pennsylvania National Guard criticized on Wednesday the alleged actions of one of its company commanders for not supporting mandatory vaccine policies within the Defense Department.

Army Times obtained a copy of an inspector general complaint filed against Capt. Christopher Foulk, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry. The complaint argued that Foulk recently sent an email to subordinates directing them to submit the names of vaccine-hesitant soldiers for inclusion in a blanket religious exemption request.

The email, included in the IG complaint, states that soldiers seeking exemption “do not have to be devout...[and] can simply morally disagree,” despite Army guidance for religious exemptions requiring requesters to demonstrate religious sincerity throughout an arduous review process.

Pennsylvania Guard officials could not confirm the existence of an IG investigation due to Army regulations prohibiting disclosure of protected whistleblower records. But the state’s spokesperson still made their stance clear.

“This Soldier’s alleged actions do not represent the beliefs of the Pennsylvania National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Keith Hickox, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Guard. “Vaccinations, in general, have long been an expectation in military service as part of having a strong, ready and resilient force. Since January, several thousand Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have voluntarily received the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The email and IG complaint

Foulk, who did not respond to emailed questions from Army Times, sent the email from his personal account to members of his company on Aug. 30.

Foulk’s email acknowledged the mandatory vaccine guidance issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Aug. 24, before saying, “[P]lease talk to every soldier you lead and get me a 100% list of those who are hesitant about this ‘mandate.’”

”I have already opened a dialogue with the Chaplain, and he is willing to submit religious accommodations for any soldier who seeks one,” the email added.

The commander also sought to embolden troops hesitant to request potentially fraudulent exemptions.

“I want this to be known: this is not a trap, this is not a trick. I, Christopher Foulk, have only the BEST intentions for the soldiers of this company,” he said. “Some soldier may be reluctant to take this step, but I can assure you that if they think adverse action will be taken against them, I will be standing beside them, as I am seeking an accommodation as well.”

The anonymous IG complaint, filed the same day the email was sent, argued that Foulk may be illegally using command influence and fraudulent religious exemption requests to sway soldiers against complying with the vaccine mandate.

Foulk appeared to anticipate potential consequences to himself, as well.

“It has been my pleasure commanding Hawkeye. I have the best intentions with this endeavor, because the soldiers are our most important asset,” he said. “I will stick to that even if it is my own undoing.”

Foulk’s email and the subsequent IG complaint are the latest episode in which soldiers are pushing back against the vaccine mandate ahead of its implementation.

A drill sergeant and a Marine staff sergeant filed a lawsuit last month against the Pentagon arguing that the military shouldn’t be able to force the vaccine on troops who have had the disease and thus have natural immunity.

The CDC says natural immunity appears to be weaker at preventing reinfection than immunity induced by the body’s vaccine response.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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