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(LifeSiteNews) — With as many as 12,000 service members declining to take the experimental COVID-19 shot by the Tuesday deadline, the U.S. Air Force has become the first branch of the military to face mass resistance to the Pentagon’s jab mandate, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The refusal of thousands of airmen to take the injection has led to concern that the Air Force and other branches will suffer a significant depletion of their combat-ready forces as a result of the coercive jab mandates, weakening the U.S. military’s ability to respond to mounting geopolitical threats.

Last Thursday, just days ahead of the Air Force’s November 2 COVID jab deadline, The Washington Post reported that despite the threat of dismissal or potential charges levied against them within the military justice system, up to 12,000 airmen were defying orders to get the COVID-19 shots.

According to the Post, the service members’ refusal to comply with the mandate poses “the first major test for military leaders whose August directive has been met with defiance among a segment of the force.”

The mandate derives from a Pentagon memo dated August 24 in which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, with the backing of President Joe Biden, directed the secretaries of all military departments to “immediately begin full [COVID] vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces,” and “impose ambitious timelines for implementation.”

The upshot of the mandate has been that some 96% of active-duty airmen have gotten at least one injection and 93% have been “fully vaccinated” by the November deadline, according to data released by the Air Force.

However, the jab mandate has been met with strong resistance from a significant minority of the force, leading to concern that enforcement of the requirement upon members who do not want the shot could lead to a serious reduction of the military branch’s ability to respond to threats and conduct necessary operations.

The Post observed that a loss of even 3%-4% of the Air Force’s 324,000 active-duty personnel could stymie crucial operations, particularly if members with pivotal military occupations, including pilots and those tasked with aircraft maintenance, are dismissed for standing against the mandate.

“The fact that it’s a choice leading to potential loss to readiness is striking,” Katherine Kuzminski, a military policy expert with Center for a New American Security, told the Post.

“The challenge now facing Air Force leaders — how to address potential major dissent in the face of a top health priority which has been deeply politicized — is a bellwether for the dilemma in store across other service branches, which all have compliance deadlines ranging from the end of November to the middle of next summer and, in some cases, have seen far greater resistance to President Biden’s mandate,” the Post reported.

It is unclear what action the Air Force will take against the estimated 12,000 airmen who have refused the jab, though penalties could include discharging them from duty.

On October 20, the Secretary of Air Force Public Affairs released a statement declaring that if a service member refuses “to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under law and policy, some of which includes issuing administrative paperwork, imposing nonjudicial punishment, or referring court-martial charges.”

“Military commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under Article 92 of the [Uniform Code of Military Justice],” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told military news outlet Stars and Stripes on Monday.

“Penalties for failing to obey an order can include dishonorable discharge, pay forfeiture or up to two years of jail time, according to the UCMJ,” the outlet stated.

Signaling its determination to enforce its mandate, the Air Force on Monday announced it had kicked out 40 recruits who wanted to join the branch but refused to get the COVID-19 shot.

The way the Air Force handles enforcement of its jab mandate for its members could provide clues as to how other branches will react.

As of mid-October, hundreds of thousands of service members across the five U.S. military branches have withstood pressure to get the shot ahead of looming deadlines.

In September, several Republican senators introduced legislation aimed at preventing the Department of Defense from issuing dishonorable discharges to service members who refuse to get the jab.

The legislation was supported by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Roger Marshall of Kansas, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, with Cruz arguing that efforts to dishonorably discharge military members for failing to take the experimental jab are “an insult to our servicemen and women who have served with honor.”

“It is the same way we dishonorably discharge those convicted of serious crimes such as treason, desertion, sexual assault, and murder,” Cruz pointed out, adding that forcing service members to get vaccinated, regardless of potential natural immunity to COVID-19 or risk from the shot itself, “is just one more example of President Biden and his administration putting politics ahead of science.”

Vaccine mandates impelling active-duty service members to take the experimental drug come in spite of myriad adverse events reported in connection to the shots, and regardless of the fact that the risk of severe symptoms is drastically less among the military population than more at-risk groups, with an estimated military COVID mortality rate of under 0.03 percent.

The Air Force declined to tell the Post how many of its members have entirely refused to comply with the branch’s vaccine mandate compared with those seeking exemptions or those whose scheduled exit from the service is already near. If service members are holding out for an exemption, though, they could face an uphill battle as medical and religious exemptions are extremely rare in the U.S. military.

While the Air Force has awarded some 336 administrative exemptions, the Post reported that the Army awarded one permanent medical exemption and no religious exemptions for the COVID jab. Likewise, the Navy has not granted a single religious exemption for any medical vaccine in seven years.

Stefanek said the Air Force will provide further details about vaccine refusal and exemption requests after the Tuesday deadline.

Meanwhile, legal action is underway to defend the rights of service members to refuse the injection. 

Late last month, Liberty Counsel filed a class action suit against Biden and Austin as well as a motion to block the jab mandate on behalf of more than a dozen individuals representing all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including officers, chaplains, National Guardsmen, and Navy SEALs, as well as civilian contractors who work with the Department of Defense.

The Middle District Court of Florida is slated to hear arguments this month on whether to block the Biden administration to force COVID-19 jabs on American service members.