Dozens of US soldiers, concerned about their safety, refuse requiredanti- anthrax shots.
Tom Rempfer is ready at a moment's notice to pack a bag and head out to any part of the world to fly combat missions in his A-10 fighter aircraft. The Connecticut Air National Guard captain says he is prepared to put his life on the line anyplace, anytime to protect United States interests.
But earlier this month, Captain Rempfer's commanders gave him a direct order he says he cannot obey.
They ordered him to roll up his sleeve and accept a vaccination against anthrax, a biological weapon believed to be in Saddam Hussein's arsenal.
"We were given the choice, take the vaccine or be grounded from your flying duties as A-10 attack pilots," Rempfer says.
"This is the only order I've ever had to refuse," says Air National Guard Maj. Dom Possemato, who shares Rempfer's dilemma. "I'm willing to accept that an Iraqi or Iranian might shoot me and put me in a grave, but I'm not willing to let my country do it with an unproved vaccination."
Of 35 pilots in Major Possemato and Rempfer's squadron, nine have refused the shots.
The vaccination issue has been percolating since December 1997 when Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered all of the nation's 2.4 million soldiers and sailors (active duty, reserves, and national guard) to receive the anthrax vaccination.
Pentagon officials insist the shots, which began in August and will continue for the next five years, are safe and effective. But many of those facing anthrax vaccinations aren't so sure.
Protecting US forces
The issue is critical to Defense leaders because vaccination is a cornerstone of US policy to protect the nation's forces from biological warfare whether waged by Saddam Hussein or freelance terrorists. Planners are seeking to develop a dozen or more vaccines to safeguard American troops from a wide variety of biological and chemical weapons threats.
In short, it holds the promise in the minds of some military strategists of rendering American forces immune from a particularly deadly form of terror.