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Last Updated

08 Feb 2003

Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL), February 8, 2003

Two Marines who refused anthrax vaccine deployed to Middle East

The Associated Press

Two Marines who refused the Pentagon's anthrax vaccine have been deployed to the Middle East and will face punishment later, officials said.

The 1st Marine Division has decided to defer punishment and will allow them to serve in "duties that will not ... unduly jeopardize them or their fellow Marines," said division spokesman 2nd Lt. Eric Knapp.

One of the Marines has been identified as Lance Cpl. Kevin Lotz, 21, a machine gunner at the Twentynine Palms Marine base, whose division is headquartered at Camp Pendleton. The other Marine's identity was not immediately available.

Lotz's mother, Kathleen Lotz, of Arcata, said she's disappointed that her son faces punishment when he returns from the combat zone.

"I can't believe they would put a Marine on the front lines, fighting a war and risking his life every day, then bring him home only to court-martial him and give him a bad conduct discharge," she said. "All I can do as a mother is pray for his safety while in Iraq and trust in the history of honor the Marine Corps has."

All other Marines in the division have been vaccinated, Knapp said.

The Marine Corps in past years has court-martialed others who refused the vaccine for disobeying a lawful order. At least 37 service members were tried in the late 1990s for refusing the vaccine when it was first mandated.

Cpl. Anthony Fusco, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, currently faces court-martial for refusing the vaccine.

The delayed punishment for the two Marines deployed to Kuwait is a departure from previous procedure, which involved removal from deployment status and quick punishment.

"Although swift disposition of disciplinary proceedings is preferable in most instances, it is not unusual for operational commitments to delay such proceedings, especially when ... related to real-world contingencies," Knapp said.

The two men have put themselves at risk should there be an anthrax attack, Marine officials said. The Pentagon has said the vaccination is safe, with severe adverse reactions occurring in about one in 100,000 vaccinations.

Anthrax is a naturally occurring virus that typically affects sheep and cattle. Dry anthrax spores, when inhaled, can be deadly to humans . The Pentagon claims anthrax exposure is 99 percent lethal.

The Bush administration has said that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has anthrax and may use it against U.S. troops, which have been gathering in the Middle East for a potential war with Iraq.