By J.M. Phelps
U.S. soldiers attend an inauguration ceremony by transforming the Area Support Group Poland into the permanent U.S. Army Garrison Poland, at Camp Kosciuszko in Poznan, Poland, on March 21, 2023. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)
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More than two dozen military service members reached out to The Epoch Times, saying they are discouraging their children from donning the uniform. This marks the end of a legacy for some families, and a tough decision for all.
Chris Collins served in the Coast Guard for nearly 12 years before “getting kicked out” in 2022 for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, he said. And he now plans to “steer” his two children away from joining the military. “It has a lot to do with distrust and the current culture,” he told The Epoch Times.
“I actually convinced my brother to join shortly after he left high school,” Mr. Collins said. “He picked the Air Force as his branch, and I regret the decision to encourage him to join because it didn’t work out well for him.”
He and his brother shared many of the same concerns, which created distrust in the military.
“The vaccine was a huge thing for me,” Mr. Collins said. “The higher-ups of military leadership, the people I once trusted to have my best interest in mind, flat out ignored everything I said in opposition to the taking the vaccine.”
As a result, he was forced to decide to take the vaccine or leave over a decade of service behind.
One of the primary reasons he joined the Coast Guard was “for the comradery,” Mr. Collins said. “I didn’t think I would find that from any other job.”
“I was once part of a Coast Guard that harped on being family, always being there for each other. But I became inconvenient when I tried to get religious accommodation for the vaccine,” he said, adding that he learned “very quickly what the higher-ups in the Coast Guard were all about, and the whole family atmosphere that was promoted to me early on was all just a façade.”
While he doesn’t blame his immediate leadership for an abbreviated career, he said, “They didn’t stand up against the mandate.”
“They, instead, deferred to the higher-ups all the way until the end, admitting it was all wrong while signing my discharge paperwork—while doing nothing to stand up against it.”
But even before the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Mr. Collins held concerns about the decision-making ability of Coast Guard leadership.
“In the past several years, the Coast Guard developed a lot of deep-rooted problems,” he said, citing leadership’s prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
“Their pursuit for those types of policies has really created a toxic environment for anybody who doesn’t believe in it.” Mr. Collins said.
“Pushing cultural things like DEI and forcing people to take an experimental vaccine shows you they don’t care about the military,” he said. “But what it does show you is that leadership will push anything to advance their own careers.”
“If you’re in a leadership position and you see harm happening to your people and your military, and you’re not willing to speak up about it, what good are you?” he said. “We need people willing to stand up and stop the change in culture to turn the military around.”
But Mr. Collins believes that even then, the military may be “too far gone” already.
“There’s too many people who have been brought up in the new culture of doing what you have to do to get ahead,” he said. “I can’t in good conscience promote the military to my children while they’re promoting things like DEI that go against everything we believe in.”
“While I wish they could make a difference to make the military better, right now I just feel like they’d be more like speed bumps in the road than anything,” he added.
A military member prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Fort Knox, Ky., on Sept. 9, 2021. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
‘My Eyes Were Opened’
Brian Wilson began his career in the Florida Army National Guard in the late nineties, transitioning to active duty in 2001 with the Navy. After twenty-one years of service, he resigned his commission in October 2022.
Like Mr. Collins, Mr. Wilson took objection to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate by the secretary of defense and senior leadership, which he considered to be illegal.
“I wasn’t going to participate in, or continue, to be part of an organization giving unlawful orders that violate federal law whenever they feel like it, so my career came to an abrupt halt,” Mr Wilson said.
Mr. Wilson’s grandfathers served in the Army during World War II. His stepfather served in the Marine Corps during Vietnam. “I would say there’s some legacy out there,” he said. But after his own career of service took “an abrupt halt, Mr. Wilson began thinking about his own children serving in the military.
“My eyes were opened, and I started thinking about things more objectively, as to what role our military serves and what the oath that an officer takes really means,” Mr. Wilson said.
He witnessed fellow officers toe “the government line to force a vaccine at all costs on service members to protect their careers and their income,” which he considered a violation of their oath to defend the Constitution.
“When I witnessed so many refuse to stand up for what’s right and so many conveniently disregard their oath, that’s when I knew I didn’t want my four children in the military,” Wilson said. “It is my opinion that the military is no longer serving and upholding the Constitution.”
“It’s certainly not trying to preserve individual liberty and freedom, as thousands were trampled on by an unlawful mandate,” he added.
Like with his children, he said, “I would caution every individual to be very careful with putting their hope and trust in today’s military leadership.”
“There is no political savior on the way, and no answer from the left or from the right any time soon,” Mr. Wilson said.
He added, “I would not choose to serve or have my children serve in a force that bends to the woke mob and promotes ungodly behavior within the ranks instead of seeking and developing warriors that think critically and are ready to defend the nation.”
“God help us if we are ever in a severe conflict again.”
Stephen Simmons served in the Marine Corps for over 17 years, having been forced to leave the service in 2022 just months before a likely selection to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Having served with distinction, he follows a long line of faithful service to our country: members of his family have fought in every major conflict the United States has participated in since the Revolutionary War.
“Military service is woven into my family’s legacy,” Mr. Simmons said. “Growing up it was encouraged and expected of men in the family, as we hold service very highly.”
But he became “disillusioned” with military leadership as he watched the United States’ disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the purge of service members who held religious and medical objections to the once-mandated COVID-19 vaccine. He was alarmed at what he saw as “politically expedient” decision-making that put the lives of service members and national security at risk, he said.
“The military is built on trust, [and] I lost trust and confidence in the military leadership,” he added.
Referring to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s 2021 military vaccine mandate, Simmons said, “it purposefully violated the conscience of thousands of military personnel by forcing them to take an experimental vaccine against their will.” The move “alienated veterans, those currently serving and future potential recruits,” he added.
According to him, “The Department of Defense refuses to address this as a contributing factor of their recruiting crisis, but in reality, it has caused generational damage to recruiting and retention that cannot be reversed until political and military leadership take proactive steps to repair the damage.”
As a subject matter expert in military retention, Mr. Simmons is no stranger to the challenges of recruiting and retaining military personnel. Noting the shortfalls in manpower that have caused the military to slip below its statutory end strength goals, Mr. Simmons said, “The leadership, while bemoaning the lack of qualified applicants, has successfully alienated half the population through their own policies.”
“Unfortunately, the military is consumed with adopting the latest politically expedient fad instead of focusing on winning wars,” Mr. Simmons said. “Veterans know this and do not want their children exposed to this.”
Mr. Simmons is the father of two boys. Whether he would encourage them to join today’s military is a “hard question.”
“It flies in the face of our family’s tradition,” he said. “But we did not break faith, the military broke faith with us. I could not in good conscience encourage them to serve in the military and have any confidence that they would be in good hands.”
Mr. Simmons fears that the decisions of parents like him to discourage their children from serving will harm future recruiting and retention efforts of the military.
This phenomenon should be “a national discussion,” he said, and political and military leadership should “realize the reckless game they’re playing” with the country’s national defense.
“They must take steps to restore faith in our military,” he said. “Whatever the cost, it will be far less than the price we will pay in attrition over the next three generations as a result of the poor decision-making over the last three years.”
Change in Values
Retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. William “Dean” Lee, who spent nearly 36 years on active duty with the branch, shared some of Mr. Simmons’s concerns. In 2016, Mr. Lee retired from service with his final assignment as Coast Guard Atlantic Area commander.
“Joining the service was the best decision I ever made,” he told The Epoch Times. “I loved my job, I loved the mission, and I loved the people with whom I served.” However, according to him, “much has changed.”
Mr. Lee joined the Coast Guard at a time when the country “held fast to Judeo-Christian values.” But by the time he retired, “adherence to those same values were being scrutinized as old-fashioned, bigoted, or even hateful,” he said.
“Traditional Biblical values have been usurped by a small crowd of exceptionally loud voices who—like it or not—have successfully forced the U.S. military to bend a knee in submission to ideologies which are not just divisive, but in some cases, outright immoral,” Mr. Lee said. He referred to the infiltration of the LGBT and DEI agenda into all branches of the armed forces.
According to him, “They have ostensibly created a new state religion, and woe to the man or woman who doesn’t bow at its multi-colored alter.”
Despite his objection to the changing culture of the military, Mr. Lee said, “I would still encourage people to serve, for our national security unquestionably depends on it.”
According to Gallup polls, the military has long been the most trusted institution in America—and Mr. Lee is proud to have been a part of that. “Events of the last two years, however, are causing that trust to erode with the American public,” he said. “As a result of these shifting values, many veterans have stopped encouraging young men and women to serve.”
Although Mr. Lee wholeheartedly agrees with their rationale, he has a different outlook on the matter. “We cannot, and should not, dissuade good people from serving just because we disagree with the current cultural direction; rather we need to encourage them to serve, for our national security is at stake,” he said.
“Those of us no longer in uniform can only pray that the best, brightest of our youth will sign up, become senior leaders, and turn the ship around before it crashes into the shoal and sinks, rendering us yet one more failed empire lost on the scrap heap of history.”
The Department of Defense didn’t return requests by The Epoch Times for comment.