Worse Than an Infection:
DOD’s Struggle with the
Until recently, Captain Clifton Volpe was a model pilot for the Air Force. A 1995 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Volpe consistently received high marks from his commanders. That all changed when he refused a direct order to take a vaccination against anthrax in preparation for a deployment to the Persian Gulf. “You’re taught not to just blindly follow orders,” Volpe recalled from his days at the Academy. “And this order [for the shot] was just wrong.”1 Although Volpe is only the second active duty pilot to be discharged from service for refusing the shot, his case represents an important flashpoint in a lingering problem for DOD leaders.
The Department of Defense has an anthrax problem. Because not a single service member has been infected with the deadly biological agent, many DOD leaders would acknowledge they face a challenge in the need for making the vaccine a servicewide requirement. DOD estimates only 350 personnel have been discharged for refusing to take the vaccine compared to the 511,000 that have lined up to take it. However, some of those discharged, like Volpe, are pilots—a community that is a precious commodity these days of far-flung deployments—so it would be misleading to look at the numbers alone. The topic has received wide attention in the media and is a hot topic on military-related Web sites.
This case study highlights some unique challenges confronting the Department of Defense for carrying out the policy. The main one involves carrying out an effective plan to protect its forces against the threat of biological warfare without diminishing readiness. An unfortunate byproduct of the anthrax vaccination plan is that it has sparked an active resistance movement in the ranks, raising larger questions about the Pen-