Marine Gets 7 Months In Jail For
Refusing Anthrax Vac
CAMP LEJEUNE -- A Marine Desert Storm veteran who refused on religious grounds to receive an anthrax vaccination in December was dismissed from the Corps on Tuesday and ordered to serve seven months in prison.
During a general court-martial at New River Air Station, CH-46 Sea Knight pilot 1st Lt. Erick Enz pleaded guilty to disobeying the order of a senior commissioned officer.
Enz, a father of five and described by his superiors as a "natural leader," faced a maximum punishment of five years' confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and dismissal from service.
Although military judge Lt. Col. Martin Sitler sentenced him to seven months confinement, Enz could serve as little as 30 days in the brig based on a pretrial agreement.
Enz, a member of New River's Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 162, Marine Aircraft Group 29, originally pleaded not guilty during a June arraignment and asked for a court-martial with a jury of at least five members.
Enz reversed that decision Tuesday and chose to plead guilty.
Reported adverse reactions to the anthrax vaccine have been the subject of debate since the vaccine's widespread use during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
The matter came to the forefront again this year when thousands of troops were ordered to be vaccinated prior to the war with Iraq.
A devout Christian and Bible study group leader, Enz did not feel right about the vaccination, witnesses testified Tuesday. He sought guidance in prayer that led him to seek more information about the vaccine and ultimately refuse the shot, fellow Marines, friends and relatives said during testimony.
In an earlier defense motion pertaining to the case, Military Judge Col. Steven Day ruled that Enz's objection on religious grounds could not be admitted into court as lawful evidence on his behalf.
Department of Defense officials contend that the vaccination is safe, as do military doctors at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital. But a September 2002 U.S. General Accounting Office report to Congress says that the rate of severity of adverse reactions to the vaccine are considerably greater than advertised.
In a random survey of 1,253 guard and reserve pilots and aircrew, the GAO found 84 percent suffered minor reactions and at least 24 percent major multiple "systemic" reactions, the latter more than 100 times higher than the estimate by the manufacturer.
A Desert Storm veteran, Enz, whose age was not immediately available, was described by superiors and his peers as a natural leader before and after refusing the vaccination.
Nearly every witness for the defense and for the prosecution said that he was well liked, respected and even admired among those in his unit.
He was on a fast track to promotion, trained ahead of many of his peers, and the papers that would move him from a reserve commission to augment him as a regular officer in the Marine Corps remained unsigned at his unit administrative office.
"The people who refuse this are not the dummies or the troublemakers," said former Air Force F-16 pilot retired Lt. Col. John Richardson of Raleigh, a critic of the vaccine. "I get two to three unsolicited calls or e-mails a week -- sometimes as many as five a day -- from kids who are sick. Someone has to stand up and do the right thing."