NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — On March 16, the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group shoved off from Naval Station in what the U.S. Navy said was a regularly scheduled deployment. It was the second week of Russia’s brazen invasion that President Vladamir Putin called a special military operation.
Meanwhile, at another pier at the world’s largest naval base, an unnamed destroyer remained on the sidelines because its unnamed captain had refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a court filing, his direct supervisor wrote that the captain also showed up for duty with symptoms of infection and lied about travel outside the Hampton Roads area.
A few days earlier, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro visited with sailors on the USS Gerald R. Ford and later met with members of the news media for a question and answer session.
Regina Mobley: “Are you prepared to fire the unnamed captain of the unnamed destroyer?”
Carlos Del Toro: “So, as I said, the case right now is with the courts and it needs to be resolved before any other decisions get made.”
On Friday, the nation’s highest court weighed in by blocking a lower court’s ruling that offered protection to U.S. troops who refuse to get the vaccine.
When Robert Capovilla was an Army judge advocate general officer, he took part in many court cases in the Hampton Roads area. Today, as a civilian defense attorney in the firm Capovilla & Williams, he’s keeping a close eye on litigation stemming from opposition to the military’s vaccine mandate.
Regina Mobley: “What is likely to happen to this unnamed commander of this unnamed destroyer?”
Robert Capovilla: “I think the Supreme Court has now opened the door for the Navy to remove that officer from command. I would be shocked if that’s not what they do because they need to carry on the mission.”
The unnamed captain’s case is similar to the lawsuits filed by dozens of other service members including Navy SEALS. Capovila says their careers are also in jeopardy.
“If things continue to escalate in Ukraine, this is going to cast a bigger light on some of these folks who refused the vaccine, especially when we are talking about the tip of the spear. The United States Navy SEALS are some of the very best that we have,” he said.
Capovilla is hopeful negotiations could save the careers of special operators as the war in Ukraine poses a global threat.
“I personally would hate to see us lose so many wonderful warfighters over this issue because Navy SEALS don’t grow on trees. There’s a lot of money invested in these folks and they are the very best we have. My hope is that some kind of resolution can be reached where these folks can continue to serve and not face some kind of separation action,” Capovilla said.