How a Marine’s COVID-19 vaccine refusal led to 113 days in the brig

Marine Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett was released from the brig so she could prepare for her trial.
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Marine Corps Brig Okinawa
A correctional specialist with the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Brig, displays his badge on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 5, 2021. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild/U.S. Marine Corps)

A Marine who has long fought against getting vaccinated for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been released after spending more than 100 days in the brig for allegedly refusing orders to go to the United States so she could be discharged, said Giorgio Kirylo, a retired Marine who is helping her.

Marine Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett was released from Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, California, on May 15, Kirylo told Task & Purpose on Thursday. She was first held in the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Brig in Okinawa after being arrested in January.

“They dumped her on the street of Miramar without even a cell phone or a dollar in her pocket,” Kirylo said. “However you look at it, it’s not right. The last time she received a paycheck was on Jan. 13, 2023.”

 Kirylo is working as an independent consultant for the Pipe Hitter Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports service members and first responders that was founded by retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, his wife Andrea, and his brother Sean.

Arnett is currently staying with Kirylo and his wife after being abruptly released from the brig and assigned to a Marine unit in California while she awaits trial, Kirylo said. After being transferred from Okinawa to Miramar in April, she was held in a restrictive housing unit and had no approved visitors.

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Kirylo said Arnett was released from the brig shortly after he tried to visit her on May 14, but it is unclear exactly why.

Arnett has requested leave so that she can visit her family in Texas for the first time in four years, according to her leave and liberty request, which was provided to Task & Purpose.

“During this time, I will be meeting with my attorneys, spending time with family, attending church and receiving the Sacraments, and mentally healing from unjust persecution,” she wrote in her request.

Arnett’s legal case is complex and the accusations against her have evolved over time. She is expected to face a special court-martial for allegedly defying her command on several occasions, said Maj. Rob Martins, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

“Lance Cpl. Arnett was held in confinement because she refused to obey any lawful orders relevant to her administrative separation, to include orders to abide by pre-trial restriction,” Martins told Task & Purpose, 

Arnett is currently charged with failing to go to an appointed place of duty and going from an appointed place of duty; missing movement; breach of restriction; willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; and disrespect toward a noncommissioned officer, according to a copy of her charge sheet obtained by Task & Purpose.

She is accused of missing an Air Mobility Command flight, disobeying an order to let a sergeant major know where she was living, disobeying orders restricting her to barracks, billeting, and the chow hall; and allegedly telling a sergeant major, “I will take the keys to the Shogun House [distinguished guest quarters for flag officers] if the command really wants to know where I am,” the charge sheet says.

Civilian attorney Jeremiah Sullivan confirmed to Task & Purpose that he represents Arnett.

Kirylo argued that the charges Arnett now faces all stem from her original refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

“This is a clear-cut case of retaliation and abuse of power,” Kirylo said. “The Marine Corps has been trying to hide it.”

Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar
Aerial view of the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, Naval Air Station Miramar, California. (U.S. National Archives)

Arnett’s command has tried to court-martial and administratively separate her since she refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19 last year while she was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.  Arnett objected on religious grounds to the Defense Department’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination program. She has said she believes that fetal cell lines from abortions carried out in 1974 and 1985 were used to develop the vaccine, Stars and Stripes reported.

No abortions were carried out to produce the vaccine, which does not contain fetal cells. Fetal cell lines have also been used to develop other vaccines that U.S. troops are required to get for rubella, chickenpox, rabies, Hepatitis A, and other diseases.

Marine Maj. Gen. Brian Cavanaugh, who was commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing when Arnett refused the vaccine, initially ordered that she be separated for the refusal, Martins said. However, after Arnett twice refused to board a flight to the United States, Cavanaugh referred her to a special court-martial for violating a lawful order and missing movement.

Complicating her case, a federal judge issued an injunction in August 2022 that prevented the Marine Corps from involuntarily separating Marines who had sought religious exemptions to the Defense Department’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, Martins said.

The military judge in charge of Arnett’s case put her trial on hold pending the resolution of federal litigation that had prompted the injunction, Martins said.

Because her trial had been delayed indefinitely, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing’s commanding general decided to withdraw the charges against Arnett and allow her to leave the Marine Corps on her original End-of-Active-Service date, November 30, 2022.

Although the Defense Department’s requirement that all service members be vaccinated for COVID-19 ended in December, Arnett’s problems with her command continued.

While Arnett’s court-martial was pending, she allegedly submitted a document with a commander’s signature on it so she could regain access to the Defense Travel System, or DTS, even though her permissions to use the system had been revoked, Martins said.

Despite the accusation that she had used the form with the commander’s signature to regain her access without her command’s knowledge, the blog TRMLX published an email from Arnett’s commanding officer that appears to show he was aware that her access to the system had been restored.

In the May 22, 2022 email, a Marine lieutenant colonel, whose name is redacted, thanked Arnett for her help on a travel issue, according to the blog.

Martins said he could not definitively conclude from the email highlighted by the TRMLX blog that Arnett’s commanding officer knew that she was improperly accessing DTS.

Nevertheless, Cavanaugh initially decided not to charge her for the incident just before her trial was scheduled to begin, Martins said.

In October 2022, Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, who took command of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at the end of Cavanaugh’s tenure, told Arnett that he was considering changing the characterization of her discharge to “general” due to the allegation that she had improperly submitted a form with a commander’s signature on it so that she could continue to use DTS, Martins said.

Making matters even more complicated, Arnett was allowed to stay in the Marines for an extra year after a September 2022 Marine Corps Administrative Message announced that Marines who were facing administrative separation for refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19 could request to extend their service for up to 12 months, Martins said.

In December 2022, Austin ordered that Arnett be administratively separated, Martins said. Arnett was accused of forgery and falsifying official documents, but those charges were never preferred to a court-martial.

However, the Marine Corps claims Arnett refused an order to go to her final physical in early January and later refused another order to move into different barracks, Martins said. She is also accused of twice failing to show up for a flight back to the United States, prompting Austin to place her in pretrial restriction, limiting her movement to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

Ultimately, Austin placed Arnett in pretrial confinement when she allegedly failed to abide by the terms of her restriction to base, Martins said. She reported to the brig on Jan. 23 and was transferred to Miramar in April.

“The reason Lance Cpl. Arnett was not placed with the general population at the Miramar brig was due to the fact that she refused to acknowledge that she would abide by the standard brig rules,” Martins said. “As a matter of standard procedure and not as a punitive measure, was she not allowed to be confined with the rest of the general population in the brig.”

Martins said that Arnett was eventually released from the brig because she was serving as her own attorney at the time and needed time to prepare for her trial. She is currently assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3 at Miramar.

He also said that Arnett’s decision last year to refuse to get vaccinated for COVID-19 is not the reason for her upcoming special court-martial.

“Lance Cpl. Arnett is not facing retribution for vaccine refusal,” Martins said. “All previously related charges were dismissed as part of the federal injunction. Her current charges stand alone and the legal process for those charges would be pursued in the same manner against any other Marine accused of the same.”

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