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Soldier sent to Iraq without shots

Sherri Williams

A charge against Spc. Kurt Hickman, who refused the anthrax vaccine, was dropped when he left for Iraq. An Ohio National Guardsman who was charged twice for refusing to take the anthrax vaccine — and once convicted in a court-martial — has been deployed to Iraq without having the shots required by the Defense Department.

On Saturday, Spc. Kurt Hickman, 20, of Granville, left Indianapolis for Iraq with the Army’s 196 th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. The Defense Department requires troops going to high-risk areas for more than 15 days to be vaccinated to protect them against potential biological weapons.

In Ohio, Hickman was convicted Dec. 13 of disobeying a lawful order for refusing the inoculation. He faced a second charge last month after repeating his refusal at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Ind. But that charge was dropped the day he departed with his unit, said Maj. Michael Brady, spokesman for Camp Atterbury.

Hickman, a sophomore journalism major at Ohio University, rejected the anthrax vaccine because he thinks it might be hazardous to his health. Everyone else in his unit was vaccinated.

O’Brien, Hickman’s commanding officer during both incidents, filed both charges. Brady said he didn’t know why O’Brien dropped the second charge.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge made the final decision to allow Hickman to be deployed.

"This is a disciplinary issue and handled by commanders, and they are given latitude," said James Turner, spokesman for the Defense Department.

Kenneth Levine, Hickman’s attorney, said his client is happy to serve his country. But Hickman is nervous that he could be asked to take the vaccine while in Iraq.

"He always wanted to serve, and the only thing that was stopping him was the anthrax issue," Levine said. "I’m hoping this will move toward it being a voluntary thing rather than a mandatory thing."

If Hickman refuses the vaccine again, he could face a new charge of disobeying a lawful order.

Brady said he does not know if Hickman will be asked to be inoculated in Iraq. For the next year, Hickman’s unit will report on events in Iraq for the Army and escort civilian journalists throughout the region.

Turner said there have been exceptions to the Defense Department’s mandatory vaccination program, including ones involving medical conditions. In those cases, antibiotics and protective gear have been used.

Hickman’s position has been based on personal research. At Hickman’s court-martial in Columbus, Levine introduced government studies and newspaper articles questioning the vaccine’s safety.

After being convicted, Hickman was sentenced to 40 days in jail and given a demotion and a bad-conduct discharge. That sentence has not been imposed because Ohio National Guard officers are still reviewing it, spokesman James Sims said.

They will modify, accept or reject it when he returns from active duty next year, Sims said.

On Jan. 6, Hickman was allowed to join his unit in Indiana to prepare for deployment. Also, the vaccination program was temporarily suspended because of a federal classaction lawsuit that involved the safety of the vaccine for inhalation anthrax.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Emmit Sullivan allowed vaccinations to resume; the six people involved in the suit were excluded. Hickman was not involved in the lawsuit.

More than 900,000 members of the armed forces, including at least 2,700 Ohio National Guard members, have had the anthrax vaccine since 1999.