Oklahoma National Guard troops who refuse coronavirus vaccine might not deploy on federal missions, Pentagon says
WASHINGTON — Oklahoma National Guard troops who decline to be vaccinated against the coronavirus could jeopardize their chance at federal service and benefits that go along with such missions, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.
Kirby stressed the need for Oklahoma Guard troops to follow Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s order in August requiring all service members to get the vaccine despite their new adjutant general’s memo last week canceling the state mandate for shots.
Members of the Oklahoma National Guard could face other consequences for refusing the shot, such as not being allowed to train or “go to a school, for instance, which then also has repercussions on that individual's potential career track,” Kirby said, stopping short of saying Guard members could be kicked out of the military.
“They can choose not to get the vaccine and therefore will have to face consequences for that decision that are within the [Defense Department's] authorities to enact,” he said. “The secretary can and has made a legal requirement for guardsmen to get the vaccine now.”
The issue came to light Thursday when Oklahoma Adjutant General Thomas Mancino issued a memo canceling the vaccine mandate for the state’s Guard troops despite a federal policy requiring the shots for all service members. His memo stated the state government would take no “negative administrative or legal action” against Guard members who decline the vaccine, The Oklahoman reported Friday.
“Until a guardsman is activated under Title 10, they follow the lawful commands of the governor of the state of Oklahoma, who has not mandated the [coronavirus] vaccine for Oklahoma Guard members,” the Oklahoma National Guard said in a statement Saturday.
However, that memo does not cancel Austin’s order requiring all service members get the vaccine or face separation from the military for failing to obey a lawful order.
Title 10 of the U.S. Code gives the National Guard Bureau authority to issue its mandate for Guard troops activated for federal missions, while Title 32 gives individual states the power to issue rules when Guard troops are operating under the state’s authority.
“If [Oklahoma Guard members] are not mobilized on Title 10 orders, the only entity that can give you a ‘lawful’ order — that is an order backed by the authority of law — is the governor and his designated state chain of command,” Mancino wrote in his memo. “This is easily seen by the fact that the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] does not apply to you in Title 32 status. Instead, you are governed by the Oklahoma Code of Military Justice.”
The National Guard’s vaccination deadline is June 30, 2022 – the latest of all the military components. However, the Air Force and Army require Guard airmen and soldiers to comply with their Nov. 2 and Dec. 15 respective vaccination deadlines to be mobilized on federal orders — more than six months before the bureau’s deadline.
On Nov. 2, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt wrote to Austin requesting the defense secretary suspend the vaccine mandate for Guard troops in his state. Stitt noted about 800 Oklahoma Guard troops — or about 10% of its force — “have not and do not plan on receiving” the shot.
Austin received the letter but had not yet replied to Stitt or reached out to Mancino as of Tuesday, Kirby said.
“Nothing in [Stitt’s] order prevents anyone from taking the vaccine. Also, nothing in his order eliminates the federal requirement,” Mancino said in the statement. “The governor is hoping for federal relief from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and in the interim has granted state relief from this requirement.”
So far, Oklahoma is the only state to request relief from the federal requirement for its Guard troops, Kirby said.