Released: 23 Apr 1999
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFPN) -- An airman first class from the 55th Transportation Squadron was convicted in a summary court-martial April 21 of failing to obey an order by refusing to take the anthrax vaccination. The case was the Air Force's first anthrax vaccination refusal to reach court-martial.
Airman 1st Class Colby Bickley, a general purpose vehicle mechanic, was sentenced to seven days confinement, reduction in grade to airman and restriction to base for 21 days.
His maximum sentence could have been one month confinement, reduction to airman basic and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month.
Maj. Renee Bennett, the presiding judge, issued the sentence after accepting a guilty plea from Bickley, hearing testimony from witnesses, and considering closing statements by Capt. Jeff Lustick, the prosecuting attorney, and Capt. Dave Eby, Bickley's defense counsel.
Arguing for a less-than-maximum sentence, Eby emphasized Bickley's clean record prior to refusing the vaccination. He also stressed that Bickley's refusal, which grew out of information he had found on the Internet, was based on a belief that the vaccine may have had negative long-term health ramifications, not on a desire to avoid temporary duty in Kuwait, an assignment he'd been notified of prior to refusal.
Lustick, meanwhile, said the vaccine was a force-protection measure no different than one's Kevlar helmet, flak vest or rifle. He further stressed that by refusing the vaccination Bickley made himself a liability to his unit and threatened mission accomplishment.
"What he did was illegal, and it violated the very laws and regulations he swore to his nation to uphold when he took his oath of enlistment," Lustick said.
After the court, Lt. Col. Jeff Curtis, the wing's staff judge advocate, spoke to news media representatives and stressed the importance of adherence to orders.
"A military unit is a team, and if you've got one or two people picking and choosing which orders to obey and which ones to ignore, lives are going to be put at risk," Curtis said.
Curtis also questioned the wisdom of relying on the Internet to make such lofty decisions.
"People need to think twice before accepting at face value everything they see on the Internet," Curtis said. "There's a lot of half-truths, misinformation and outright lies out there, and it really should not be looked at as an infallible source of reliable information.
"I hope one of the outcomes of this court-martial is that if there are other people out there who are thinking about refusing to take the anthrax vaccination because of what they've seen on the Internet, that they strongly reconsider and do the right thing by getting the straight facts from the military public health section at the hospital."
Curtis also said that while much misinformation is spread from unofficial Internet sites, people can visit a pair of official Air Force and Department of Defense sites to learn more about the anthrax vaccine's safety. Those sites are at www.defenselink.mil and www.af.mil/current/anthrax.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Carey Capell, 55th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, also met news media representatives and underscored the vaccine's safety.
"This vaccine has a 30-year track record of safety, and there have been no reported long-term adverse side effects at all," Capell said. "Compared to a lot of other vaccines, the anthrax vaccine has actually proven itself to be more safe than most of the other routine vaccinations out there."
* Department of Defense
* Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
Check Six Safe Shots: An Airman's Guide to Anthrax Vaccinationsfor more anthrax vaccination news