The secretary of the Army has issued a memo warning the hundreds of thousands of soldiers in its National Guard that if they decline to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, they may not be renewed in the guard.
“I have determined that all soldiers who refuse the mandatory vaccination order will be flagged,” wrote Christine E. Wormuth, the secretary, in a memo this week, which would prevent them from promotions, awards, bonuses and the like. If troops persist in declining, they will not be permitted “continued service” unless granted an approved exemption from the vaccine, she wrote.
Last week, Oklahoma’s newly appointed adjutant general for the National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, announced on behalf of Gov. Kevin Stitt that guardsmen in the state would not be required to get a Covid-19 vaccine. The policy defies a Pentagon directive issued in August that makes vaccination mandatory for all troops, including the National Guard, by deadlines set by each service branch.
The memo created a testy stand off between Oklahoma officials and the Pentagon, which insists that all National Guard members must follow the same vaccine procedures as active duty troops. Guard troops are under the authority of the governor unless federally deployed. However, the Pentagon has stood its ground on the notion that its vaccine mandate trumps states’ rights.
In Oklahoma, 89 percent of airmen in the Guard have been vaccinated, while only 40 percent of Army guardsmen have had shots; the deadline for members of the Army National Guard is coming next month. All branches of the military have been permitted to come up with their own vaccine mandate deadlines for active duty and guard troops, as well as their own punishment systems for refusing shots.
The Pentagon has been wary that other states may follow Oklahoma’s lead.
Texas Guard officials, for instance, said in an email that the Pentagon appeared to be imposing vaccine mandates on military and National Guard members without adequate protections in place for individuals with religious objections and hinted it, too, might permit members to skip the shots.
The governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy, has also issued a memo noting that “President Biden and his Administration have taken actions, or announced plans to act, that threaten the sovereign authority of the State of Alaska,” which included “imposing vaccine mandates on military and National Guard members without adequate protections in place for individuals with religious objections.”
In essence, Texas and Alaska appear to be engaged in a passive version of the Oklahoma written policy. “We are awaiting additional guidance from the Departments of the U.S. Army and Air Force that addresses National Guard requirements,” said Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Guard, in an email.
So far, the Defense Department has granted a smattering of exemptions from vaccines, including for people who were already leaving the military or who have medical issues, but those for religious reasons are still pending.