In the first move by the armed services to remove troops on active duty for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. Air Force has discharged 27 active-duty troops.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said on Monday that these 27 are the first airmen to be administratively discharged for refusing the vaccine. The Air Force set a date of November 2 for all members of the service to get the vaccine, and thousands have either refused or sought an exemption.

She said all of them were in their first term of enlistment, with under six years of service, so that none of them qualify for a hearing before their discharge, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. Hence, the Air Force went for the low-hanging fruit, going after the younger, lower-ranking personnel. 

None of the airmen had exemptions, whether religious, administrative, or medical, Stefanek said. Stefanek added that some of those discharged may have had other violations on their records, but all of them had refused the vaccine, which was the cause for their discharge, as they had refused to obey a lawful order. 

Stefanek told the AP that discharging troops for disobeying orders is not rare. She said the Air Force discharged 1,800 airmen in the past year for disobeying orders. 

Refusing the vaccine could cost servicemembers money other than losing their pay from the Air Force. According to Air Force officials, those who are discharged for refusing the vaccine are automatically ineligible for involuntary separation pay and may be responsible for repaying any unearned incentive or special pay.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated that all military service members must receive the COVID-19 vaccine back in late August. AP photo

The same report by the WSJ cited that 97 percent of the active-duty service members had complied with the directive from Washington and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued in August. However, a report by the Air Force stated that 18,000 troops are considered unvaccinated. 

The Air Force said earlier in December that all service members who requested exemptions via religious or medical grounds would be exempt from getting the COVID-19 vaccine until their individual reviews were completed.  There are currently 4,700 airmen who asked to be exempted on religious grounds. Thus far, the Air Force has not approved any exemptions.