Thursday, March 25, 1999

Marine faces court-martial
for refusing anthrax shot

By Jaymes K. Song


U.S. Marine Roman Lezo has been demoted to private, docked half his pay, given demerits on his record, assigned extra duty and restricted to his barracks when he's not at work.

But Lezo believes he's still a solid soldier who is being bullied into taking an unsafe vaccine.

"I didn't join the service to be dishonorably discharged," said Lezo, a mechanic with the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron unit 363. "But I didn't join the service to take a vaccine that has not been tested properly."

Lezo is one of 20 soldiers at Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Kaneohe and the 200 military personnel worldwide who have refused an inoculation against anthrax. Lezo, who has no prior citations, is being court-martialed, which could result in jail time or a dishonorable discharge.

"They threw the book at me for my first offense," Lezo said.

Marine officials said Lezo has received the first three of six injections.

"It's not something new," said Marine spokeswoman Lt. Angela Judge of Lezo's refusal to take the shots. "He's just the first one to go public (in Hawaii).

"We're not going to force it, but we're telling them it's a punishable offense because it is a lawful order."

The order was given by Defense Secretary William Cohen to all 2.4 million military personnel.

The vaccine is a protection against an attack with biological weapons, Marine officials said.

But Lezo, a native of Sherman Oaks, Calif., said they are "physically forcing (me) to take the injections," and he doesn't plan to take the vaccination no matter what the penalties are.

"I'm standing up for my beliefs," he said. "It's for health reasons. I don't believe it's safe."

Lezo said he knows soldiers at his base who suffered "allergic reactions and adverse affects" from the vaccine. One soldier was even hospitalized, he said.

Officials at the Kaneohe base said they were not aware of anybody being hospitalized after receiving the vaccine.

Lezo said he has tried to study the vaccine and anthrax, but he couldn't get answers from military physicians about the side effects.

"Whatever it takes, I'm not taking the shot," he said.

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