My name is Sean Niemi and until April 2nd, 2012 I was a Combat Medic with the United States Army. I served Honorably and Proudly for almost 7 years through 27 months worth of 2 Combat deployments. Iraq in 2006-2007 and Afghanistan in 2009.
Throughout my time in the Army, I have endured many things and situations that I would never wish upon my fellow man. I have experienced things that brought me nightmares, caused sheer terror, and will stay with me for the rest of my life. These things are many times, the unfortunate side effects of war and are often as unavoidable by those involved as they are unimaginable by those not involved. One of the things that most haunts me from my time in the US Army is something that not only was avoidable but was, in my opinion, deliberate.
The end of my Military career came almost a year and a half earlier than I expected. I was preparing for an upcoming Combat Deployment (would have been my 3rd such deployment) when I decided that I was going to exercise my right to choose to not be vaccinated in accordance with current Army regulations. I had been wrestling with the decision for years at that point and decided that it was time to speak up and submit my Religious Exemption request. Almost immediately, I was told by CPT Michael Repasky and 1SG Michael Gately that no such exemption existed and that I was in violation of Army regulations regarding deployment readiness. I was told to take some time to research my options and come back with a decision as to what I wanted to do after the Christmas Holiday block leave time. I took that time to locate the exact Army Regulation that dealt with such exemption requests. AR 40-562 entitled “Immunizations and Chemoprophylaxis” stated that I did, indeed have the right to request exemption from immunizations, vaccines and any other medical treatment that ran counter to my religious beliefs.
When I presented this evidence to my Chain of Command, I was told that it didn’t apply due to the upcoming deployment but that CPT Repasky and 1SG Gately would follow the guidance laid out in the regulation regarding how to handle my request. From that point on, I was regularly ridiculed, spoken down to, passed over for promotions and awards and, on at least one occasion, threatened with violence to myself and another fellow medic by none other than the Unit Commander, CPT Michael Repasky. The threat took the form of CPT Repasky saying that he wishes he could take myself and the other medic, lock us in a wall-locker and throw in a live grenade with the pin pulled. I understand frustration and that CPT Repasky has stated after the fact that he was just “blowing off steam” and it was “just a joke”, but, fratricide is nothing to be taken lightly or joked about. It was this type of toxic leadership that I believe permeated the Unit and was the driving influence in CPT Repasky’s decision to reject my exemption request and subsequently order me to get all necessary vaccines and immunizations required for deployment (which, incidentally, consisted of an influenza mist inhaler and a yearly Anthrax booster shot). When I respectfully refused that order due to the fact that I firmly believed it to be an unlawful and immoral order that undermined my Constitutionally protected religious rights I was informed that I would be facing UCMJ punishment effective immediately (which could consist of as much as 1 year in Military Prison, Dishonorable Discharge and a Felony Conviction on my record).
I decided that I would not give up my fight for my personal rights. After more than 1 year of Court Martial proceedings, multiple depositions, and countless motions submitted by the Military Prosecutors and my Defense team I was finally Honorably discharged by order of the Secretary of the Army, HON John McHugh with most of my Veteran’s benefits intact on the grounds that the US Army could not accommodate my religious practices and as such I did not meet the needs of the Army. In the process of being discharged I was denied recertification of my National Registry EMT license to practice medicine in a civilian setting even though I met all necessary recertification criteria. Due to this I now find myself without work, without a valid license to do the work that I am trained for and love.
As a result of what I see as CPT Repasky’s toxic and negligent leadership I have endured distrust, name-calling, ridicule, career assassination, the threat of a possible felony conviction with 1 year of Military prison time, unimaginable stress put upon my family and on at least one occasion… death threats. This is not the Army I signed up to be a part of. The oath that I, and every Service member, took does not include anywhere in the wording that I would give up ANY of the constitutionally guaranteed rights that I vowed to uphold and defend. Nor does it mention that I should expect to be ostracized and threatened by the very “Brothers in Arms” that I would be facing immediate danger with daily during deployments to combat zones around the world.
Thinking back on all that has happened; I cherish my time in the US Army. The true lifelong friendships I’ve made. The unique experiences I’ve had. The many lives I have touched and have touched me in a positive way. Even all of the trials and tribulations during the past many months… I wouldn’t change a thing. I only pray that my battle of forced immunizations vs personal religious rights would turn out to be an example that there are people out there willing to fight for what is right. Brave men and women willing to risk it all to stand up for what they believe in regardless of the possible potential cost.
I ask for nothing more than to be inspiration for those parents struggling with the decision whether to give in to public opinion or to stick with their convictions regarding immunizing their children. That healthcare provider that just doesn’t agree with mandatory vaccinations of otherwise healthy individuals to perhaps protect them against something that they may or may not possibly contract at some unforeseen future time if the vaccines they are administering actually work as advertised and don’t actually do more harm than good. An example that the individual CAN defeat the legion when they have the truth on their side. Proof that one man CAN make a difference, even against an all encompassing, all-powerful entity such as the US military when he is just willing to be the difference maker.
I would like to thank everyone that expressed support for the cause throughout this trying time but specifically I would like to thank first and foremost my wonderful wife, Sherrie. Without her encouragement and support I don’t think I would have been able to do this. Also, my Defense Council Team consisting of Miss Patricia Finn and an appointed Military Defense Counsel, whom I would have been simply lost without and would never have been able to navigate all the legal ins and outs. Miss Finn was a constant unshakeable source of encouragement and fire to keep fighting because I had the truth on my side. To the rest of my friends, family, and social media contacts… thank you for all the words of encouragement and support. The fight is not done, and neither am I.