Marine Veteran Who Refused COVID-19 Vaccine Detained at Former Duty Station, Transferred to Japanese Authorities

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This photo shows the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni headquarters building.
This photo shows the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni headquarters building on Jan. 10, 2022. (Lance Cpl. Darien Wright/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A former Marine lance corporal who refused the COVID-19 vaccine and was kicked out of the service returned to her former Japan-based duty station in an apparent act of civil disobedience and was arrested by police earlier this month for alleged trespassing.

Catherine Arnett, 25, was separated from the Marine Corps after spending 113 days in pre-trial confinement awaiting court-martial for allegedly refusing orders to board a plane to the United States, among other charges that were dropped by the Marine Corps earlier this year.

According to Stars and Stripes, which first reported the arrest, Arnett was transferred from American military police to Japanese authorities on Dec. 1 after attempting to enter her former duty station, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, at 2:30 a.m. local time. She was released from custody nearly two weeks ago, according to the publication.

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Military.com spoke to Jamie Engel, who said she was Arnett's "acting secretary." Several pictures of the two posing together were posted to social media. Arnett did not respond to Military.com's inquiry via Facebook Messenger.

Engel said she had not heard from Arnett since her reported release earlier this month.

Engel's last contact with Arnett was through the American embassy in Japan around Dec. 8 when she received a letter apparently from Arnett, she said. The U.S. consulate in Fukuoka, Japan, did not respond to the publication's inquiries, and Engel declined to provide direct emails from the embassy.

"She wanted to stand on principle that everything -- her discharge … everything was illegal because the basis of her even facing retaliation was because of an unlawful order," Engel said, adding that Arnett did not accept her separation orders and believed herself to remain on active duty "on principle."

Arnett originally faced an administrative separation for refusing the vaccine last year. After defying orders to board a plane at least three times, she was ordered to pre-trial confinement. The Marine Corps eventually dropped all charges against her, which included missing a military flight and disobeying an order from an officer; she received a general discharge under honorable conditions, according to Stars and Stripes.

When asked about her arrest, the Marine Corps referred Military.com's inquiries to Japanese authorities.

"Catherine Arnett was separated from the United States Marine Corps several months ago and has since had no official affiliation with the service," 1st Lt. Aaron Ellis, a spokesperson for MCAS Iwakuni, told Military.com in an emailed statement Dec. 13. "Since Catherine Arnett is a civilian and was not in military custody, we do not have any additional information."

Ellis said that all unauthorized entries of U.S. military installations in Japan are punishable under local law.

Stars and Stripes reported that Arnett was detained by military police on suspicion of violating the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Japan.

"BRUH, like incarceration here in Japan was ONLY the natural trajectory of this entire ordeal starting in September 2021," a statement provided by Engel from Arnett began, alluding to the federal government's mandate for all of its employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department rescinded the mandate. In October, it was ordered by a Florida District Court Judge to pay $1.8 million in legal fees as settlement for two lawsuits that challenged the order, though plaintiffs did not receive any of the money, Military.com reported.

Arnett said anyone who willingly separated from the military after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine was "verifiably a coward." According to the letter, Arnett believes she was subject to "religious and intellectual persecution" for refusing the vaccine and encouraged others to "formulate their own ideations" about how to civilly disobey.

Related: Pentagon Drops COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Troops

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