(The Center Square) – One of three whistleblowers in a Congressional investigation into increases of diagnoses of serious medical conditions among U.S. service members is Lt. Col. Pete Chambers who in an exclusive interview with The Center Square says he is retiring after 39 years of service because he is being forced out of the Texas Army National Guard for his commitment to providing informed consent regarding the COVID-19 vaccines.
Chambers, the first Special Forces Operations Surgeon for the Green Berets, also raised concerns about the lack of leadership governing the Guard’s role in Operation Lone Star, a border security initiative Gov. Greg Abbott launched last March after President Joe Biden's policies led to large increases in illegal immigration.
Chambers' successor, a pediatric endocrinologist, Col. Robert Ferry, MD, has been traveling statewide to “dispel rumors, urban myths and misinformation swirling around” the COVID-19 vaccines, saying they’re “safe and effective.”
Abbott “has always maintained that vaccines are voluntary, never mandatory,” a spokesperson from Abbott's office told The Center Square, pointing to the state’s lawsuit against the Biden administration's vaccine mandates. However, Texas Military Department (TMD) Deputy Joint Surgeon Geoffrey Powell issued a memo stating, “As a reminder it’s our job to convince Soldiers to receive the vaccine. If you, personally, are not able to fulfill this role, please, privately message the State Surgeon, Col. Peter Coldwell.”
The memo was leaked by one of many TMD whistleblowers who’ve contacted Lt. Col. Allen West (Ret.) over ongoing problems with Operation Lone Star. The Texas Army and Air National Guard are part of the TMD.
West, who’s challenging Abbott in the Republican primary for governor, said, “Governor Abbott may want to speak to his own Deputy Joint Surgeon of the Texas Military Department – Deputy Joint Surgeon Powell’s internal memo seems to state something to the contrary,” about Abbott's claims that the vaccines "are voluntary, never mandatory," including the Texas National Guard.
Abbott’s campaign did not return requests for comment.
Regarding religious exemptions, Powell said in a statement, “Read the regulation. Ever seen a religious exemption for vaccines? NO! You haven’t. … Soldiers will try. Soldiers will fail."
In a Feb. 17 group chat to OLS Task Force East leaders exclusively obtained by The Center Square, Maj. Jason Cordaway said, “to our unvaccinated soldiers … I highly encourage you to get it done ASAP. … it’s our goal to have over 95% of the TF either fully vaccinated or with at least the first dose complete by February 28. At the rate of vaccination completion with TF East over the past 30 days, we assess that this is a feasible goal. … Leaders, please continue to encourage your un-vaccinated Soldiers to get started on the vaccination process now.”
While she wouldn’t comment on their remarks, Col. Rita Holton, TMD director of Communications, told The Center Square, “The decision to vaccinate is both an individual and a voluntary one, the Texas Military Department respects the personal choices made by our service members. We are providing information and resources to all of our service members in order to assist them in making an informed decision about themselves, their families and careers.”
According to an audio recording of Ferry speaking to unvaccinated soldiers on Feb. 18, obtained by The Center Square, he spent an hour rebuffing common objections to getting the shots.
“The most common reason given for not getting this particular vaccine is I don’t want to,” he said. But “there are a lot of things we don’t want to do, when we put on the uniform … we also have special responsibilities, and those include following regulations and rules set for us …”
To those arguing the vaccines are “untested technology,” he said, “There are two FDA approved vaccines. Both of which have been proven to be safe and effective. One manufactured by Pfizer; one by Moderna. Pfizer was approved in August  and Moderna in January.”
But Liberty Counsel counters, “there are no FDA-approved COVID-19 shots available;” they’re only available through Emergency Use Authorization.
With more than 192 million Americans having received over 354 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines as of last September, Ferry said, “When so many people have gotten it … this is no longer untested technology.
“Do we know what effect is 20 or 30 years from now? No, that’s an unknown. But every bit of evidence we have so far suggests it’s safe and effective and has none of those long-term effects that one would worry about.”
“John Hopkins University of Medicine states that a typical vaccine development timeline takes 5 to 10 years, and sometimes longer to assess safety and efficacy,” Liberty Counsel counters. Approving Comirnaty through EUA “was the fastest in the [FDA’s] history, coming less than four months after Pfizer-BioNTech filed for licensing on May 7, 2021.”
Chambers has pointed to a spike in service members’ diagnoses of serious medical conditions since 2021, a claim the DOD said is due to underreported data prior to 2021. His attorney said, “the spike in cancers, miscarriages, infertility … jumps by factors of hundreds to thousands of a percent.”
To those citing religion as the reason not to be vaccinated, Ferry said, “We have always processed religious waivers, at the state level.”
“The Secretary of Defense COVID-19 vaccine mandate is a federal action that applies to the Texas Army and Air National Guard,” Holton also told The Center Square. “Just like any other military vaccination requirement, service members can request a medical or religious exemption from this vaccine. These exemptions are approved at the federal level and not within the state of Texas.”
All branches of the military have rejected nearly all religious exemption requests, prompting Liberty Counsel and Thomas More Society to sue. Of the more than 28,000 religious exemption requests submitted nationwide as of Feb. 4, four were approved.
A Feb. 23 internal bulletin board message, a copy of which was obtained by The Center Square, states, "Soldiers who apply for an exemption (religious or administrative or medical) will be granted a temporary exemption for 90 days by the TMD Joint Surgeon-CH (COL) Laing, John TXARNG State CH."
Col. Holton also told TCS that no members of the Texas Military Department have been separated due to a religious exemption request denial.
"At each Town Hall meeting our agency physicians conduct to discuss this vaccine option and address any questions or concerns a service member may have, our physicians have presented detailed information to include both EUA and FDA documentation on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines," Holton said.
"Based on the Department of Defense’s decision to withhold pay from service members who opt out of the vaccine, choosing not to vaccinate may have significant career implications for our service members. Our TMD physicians, chaplains and commanders are all working hard to ensure each service member has all the information and resources needed to assist them in making an informed decision about themselves, their families and their careers," Holton added.
Ferry said citing constitutional rights is “a philosophical debate about where your rights as an individual end and your responsibilities as a collective group, like the army, or the community, begin. … the courts have ruled that we have special responsibilities when we put on this uniform and special privileges. That means that the lawful orders we get from the Secretary of Defense or the president are lawful orders that we have to follow.”
To those citing natural immunity and being healthy, Ferry said, “There are many people who’ve survived COVID and have some degree of natural immunity. But unfortunately, not every disease gives you life-long immunity when you get exposed to it. Natural immunity isn’t lifelong and doesn’t protect against COVID, which is why you need the vaccine.”
According to recent reports, natural immunity offers greater protection than the COVID-19 shots. The CDC also “hasn’t been publishing large portions of the COVID data it collects,” The New York Times reports.
Chambers says Army regulation 40-562, chapter 8, verse 2 requires that informed consent under EUA be given. “The information that it’s completely safe,” isn’t informed consent, he says.
“The chances of getting Myocarditis, which is something you have to go to the hospital for, is not mild. If you’re left with long-term effects from Myocarditis in your 20s or 30s, your life expectancy will be cut short, Chambers told The Center Square.
Myocarditis, often caused by a viral infection, can weaken the heart, in a severe case potentially leading to heart failure.
Chambers' attorney, Thomas Renz, pointed to a 269% spike in diagnoses of servicemen presenting Myocardial infarction at a roundtable held by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., last month. The DOD has since said this and other high percentages of increased ailments are skewed because data from a five-year period hadn't been input into the system. It hasn't provided updated data or accounted for the significant number of diagnoses of serious medical conditions being seen military wide.
“You cannot encourage soldiers to take a shot based upon faulty information," Chambers told The Center Square. "Coercion lies in the fact that a level of trust exists in a profession and as a young soldier I would not have known enough to go toe to toe with them based on his research. I’m putting myself in that man’s hands that he’s going to give me the best information to make informed consent. If the information is faulty, than it’s not true informed consent.”
It’s difficult for Chambers to leave the troops, he said, “in hands that I don’t necessarily know will make the best decision for them during these times when they are looking to us for answers as leaders.”