U.S. Navy Relieves Destroyer's XO for Refusing COVID Vaccine

USS Winston Churchill (USN file image)

Published Dec 12, 2021 4:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy has removed a destroyer's executive officer from command for refusing both COVID-19 vaccination and COVID-19 testing, according to multiple media sources. 

Cmdr. Lucian Kins, the XO of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Winston Churchill, was relieved of command on Friday. The official statement from Naval Surface Forces Atlantic indicated that he was removed for refusing a "lawful order" and "loss of confidence" in his ability to command, without going into detail. 

According to the AP, Navy sources indicate that Kins has become the first senior Navy officer removed from his post for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. He also reportedly refused COVID-19 testing.

Lt. Cmdr. Han Yi, the ship’s plans and tactics officer, has been temporarily promoted to the post of executive officer until a permanent relief is identified, the Navy said in a statement. Kins has been reassigned to the staff of Naval Surface Squadron 14, pending further action.

The Navy implemented a COVID vaccination requirement in October, in line with Department of Defense policy for all of the service branches. Sailors had until Nov. 28 to complete a full course of vaccination, and the Navy has outlined steps towards separation for those who fail to comply. The service says that only about 5,700 members of its 330,000-strong active duty force remain unvaccinated as of early December. About 450 exemptions (temporary and permanent) have been granted. 

The U.S. Navy has a particular interest in adding the COVID-19 vaccine to its extensive list of vaccination requirements. The sailors deployed on its ships and submarines live together in cramped conditions for weeks or months, and an outbreak on board can disrupt operations, with implications for national defense. 

The Navy sustained the largest single outbreak of COVID of any of the service branches - the well-publicized 2020 incident aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which resulted in the first recorded COVID fatality in the military. Over the course of the past year, it has had to implement rigorous (and costly) quarantine measures to keep the disease off its ships. Navy leadership hopes that 100-percent vaccination will finally bring an end to these operational risks, though the emergence of new vaccine-resistant COVID variants may pose new challenges.