‘Betrayed, Abandoned, Used, and Ashamed’: Marine Denied Religious Exemption Fears For His Future

By: The Epoch Times

A senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the U.S. Marine Corps who was denied a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate said the uncertainty of the situation is leaving him fearful about his future.

Master Sergeant Chuck Fourly (a pseudonym) has served in the Marine Corps for nearly 20 years, enlisting into the service on the heels of the 9/11 attacks. Fourly spoke to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

As of Feb. 2, there have been 3,538 requests for religious accommodation made with 3,414 processed, the Marines said. Only three applications have been granted so far, while 469 Marines have been separated for refusing to take the vaccine. Ninety-five percent of the Marines are fully vaccinated and an additional 2 percent partially vaccinated, according to the Marines. Additionally, 88 percent of the Marines who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

Fourly he took part in two combat tours in Iraq, including the second battle of Fallujah. In the fall of 2021, as the Marine Corps began imposing the vaccine mandate, he submitted the necessary paperwork to retire mid-summer 2022. His request is still pending.

The NCO also applied for a religious exemption to getting vaccinated and received a denial letter. He quickly appealed the decision, calling the initial determination “unjust.” To date, this final attempt remains unanswered since November; No timeline to receive a response was given.

Over the past two decades, Fourly admits that he has witnessed instances of “injustice and corruption that occurs in the Marine Corps,” but this pales in comparison to what he’s witnessing today.

Fourly likened his predicament to that faced by former Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, who was discharged from the Marines late last year after being court martialed for publicly criticizing senior military officials over the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

If Fourly were to openly speak out and stand by his religious convictions against the vaccine mandate, he would, like Scheller, also be dismissed from the Marine Corps very quickly, the NCO said.

He suggested that such punishment has to be meted out so that senior leadership could save face.

“Maybe it’s because it bruises their egos and they have to save face by making it look like those courageous enough to speak out against injustice are doing something wrong,” Fourly said.

In the process of seeking an exemption, Fourly said he was “softly accused of mutiny” and “pulling a Stu Scheller” by a senior enlisted leader in the chain of command.

The result is that the leadership is escaping public criticism for their actions, he said.

The NCO pointed to revisions in the Department of Defense (DoD) instruction that governs the religious accommodation process which has attracted little scrutiny.

The most recent revision was September 2020 (pdf). When compared to the 1988 (pdf) and 2009 (pdf) versions of the DoD instruction, something changed. In these earlier versions, the instructions said that the DoD placed “a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces/Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions” as a matter of policy. But in 2020, this statement was removed.

“One could easily infer that the military, the DoD, no longer places a high value on religious freedom” Fourly said. “That’s scary because somebody had to make a deliberate effort to have the statement removed.” This needs to be exposed, he said, adding that “it’s time for tough questions to be asked because we deserve answers.”

The DoD did not return an inquiry from The Epoch Times.

Caught Off Guard and Feeling Betrayed

Fourly risks losing the benefits and pension that comes with 20 years of service in the Marine Corps.

“First and foremost, I gave up myself to the Corps,” he said. While other Marines may have pursued various academic endeavors and more, he didn’t. “Instead of studying chemistry or writing an English paper, Fourly said, “I was reading about warfighting, amphibious operations, and ship-to-shore movements, because that benefits my role as a warfighter.”

Initially, Fourly wasn’t planning on retiring from the Marine Corps for another few years. It was then that he was going to figure out what he’d do for a living after leaving the service. But now, with the risk of being separated from the military sooner than expected, the NCO admitted that he is fearful of the future.

“I am in no way situated to leave the Marine Corps and thrive with a wife and kids at home.” Fourly said. He explained that he has “no education” beyond high school and feels like he has “no real transferable skills” to civilian society that would match the earnings he’s accumulated in the Corps, including his pay, entitlements, and benefits.

“The prospects of that are extraordinarily slim for someone with only a high school education,” he said. But these are merely the “tangible things,” he said. The greatest toll has been the personal one. “It’s mental, emotional, and spiritual.”

“Marine Corps leadership is telling us that no matter how many years of honorable service we may have, it carries no weight against this latest push to get us all vaccinated beyond our will,” Fourly said. “Not only does it not carry any weight, but they’re also going to try to hurt us as much as possible on the way out.”

He added, “the Marine Corps is taking service members who are already hurting and in pain and they’re going to the one thing that increases the likelihood of a ramping up the possibilities of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or even suicide.”

Like many of his fellow Marines, Fourly said he is left feeling “betrayed, abandoned, used, and ashamed.” The leadership of the Marine Corps is “creating the feeling that, by standing up for one’s religious beliefs, service members are doing something wrong, [adding that] all the while, they’re the ones in inflicting all the harm,” he said.

Concerns for Future

Sadly, Fourly admitted, he and his wife are afraid he’s going to kill himself one day. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t sit here in this moment with you and tell you that things like veteran suicide have their genesis in moments like this,” he said. “I’m standing up for what I believe and nobody’s listening and nobody cares, especially the leadership.”

The NCO is convinced “no one in a position of authority or power is willing to reciprocate and put their livelihoods on the line as I have,” he said.

All things considered, Fourly questions his mental stability in the years ahead.

According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report, the average number of veteran suicide deaths per day has risen from 16.4 in 2001 to 17.2 in 2019. Rates for men peaked in 2018 and women in 2017, but the potential loss of losing one’s career over the vaccine mandate could have an impact on what lies ahead.

Retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher told to The Epoch Times that veteran suicide is “a very deadly epidemic” that may only worsen in the years ahead. Like Fourly, he can relate to the feelings of betrayal, because he also gave is “heart and soul to the cause [of warfighting].”

In 2018, Gallagher became the center of controversy after he was accused of war crimes and subsequently charged with premeditated murder, attempted murder, obstruction of justice, among other offenses. He was acquitted of all but one of the charges and retired from the Navy with full honors in 2019.

While people on the outside may see Gallagher’s story as “a victory,” what he experienced internally was a different matter. But the former Navy SEAL quickly recognized that he would need help to cope with the experience. So he had “no qualms about seeking out help,” having committed to getting help in the years following the incident.

Gallagher doesn’t expect to see a downward trend in the number of suicides committed by veterans in the coming years. He noted that there there are veterans returning from the 20-year war in Afghanistan. And on top of that, there are now “veterans returning from war who have given everything and are willing to give more, but they are being forced out because they are not willing to take the jab.”

Because of this, Gallagher urged servicemen and women to seek help. Getting help does not portray weakness or cowardice, he added. “It’s an ongoing battle than many are going to face daily,” he said, but “it must be confronted to make [oneself] a better human being, a better spouse, and a better parent.”

While Gallagher agreed that some service members, like Fourly, may feel like they have no transferrable skills to create a life outside of the military, he pushed back on the narrative.

The men and women of the U.S. military “have more transferable skills and the ability to their keep than they realize,” the retired Navy SEAL said. “The values that made them a warfighter can be used to make them successful in nearly any field they choose.”

To Gallagher, “the whole idea that they have nothing to offer or the skills to survive after their time of service are abject lies that must be dismissed from thought.” Each of these men and women have a lot to offer to many sectors of society, he said.

If you or someone you know is showing signs that they might be suicidal, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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