The three seniors will be denied entry into the Air Force as second lieutenants but will be allowed to graduate with the bachelor’s degrees they earned, The News and Observer newspaper reported.
A spokesman for the Academy said the graduating seniors “will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated."
The defiant seniors could also be forced to reimburse the United States government for their education costs, a decision that is left up to the Secretary of the Air Force.
Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former military chaplain who is himself an Air Force Academy graduate, has been on a public campaign to defend the cadets from retaliation. If they are forced to pay back the federal government, he says, that cost is approximately $165,000 in scholarship money.
“The three seniors, unfortunately, they’ll get their diplomas in the mail,” he tells AFN, “but they cannot attend their own ceremony.”
According to the Observer, West Point and the Naval Academy have a 100% compliance rate among their graduating cadets. A fourth Air Force cadet caved at the last minute in order to graduate with the other cadets, the newspaper said.
The scheduled speaker at the Air Force graduation is Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He tested positive for the virus in January despite being vaccinated and then “boosted” three months earlier, in October.