Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that National Guard members who don't comply with his August order to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be barred from federal drills and training they need to maintain their Guard status and will have their federal pay withheld. Austin's memo, The Washington Post reports, is "an apparent warning shot" to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) and other "Republican governors looking to defy federal mandates."
Stitt told Austin on Nov. 2 that as head of the Oklahoma National Guard, he would countermand the August directive, because requiring troops to get vaccinated "violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans." He ordered Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino to exempt all 8,200 Oklahoma National Guard members under his command. Austin denied Stitt's request for an exemption on Monday, writing that the governor's stated concerns "do not negate the need" for a vaccinated reserve military force.
"When Guard troops are on state active duty, such as responding to local emergencies like flooding, they report to their governor and are paid by their state," The Associated Press explains. "But during monthly or annual training or when they are responding to larger emergencies in the state, they are controlled by the governor but funded by the federal government."
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Some Guard members "could skip the vaccine and still serve within the state for some time," the Post adds, but "they won't be able to avoid the federal mandate if mobilized for an overseas deployment or attend various training programs vital for career advancement, all but ending their careers." Army National Guard troops have until June to get fully vaccinated, but the deadline for the Air National Guard is Thursday.
Stitt, the only governor who has tried to revoke Austin's vaccine requirement, said through a spokesman that he "maintains his position that the governor is the commander in chief for all members of the Oklahoma National Guard," and "no policy changes are planned." Stitt has said other Republican governors are interested in following his lead on vaccines, though none have said so publicly.
Retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey applauded Austin's "sensible and science-based leadership decision," adding: "Unvaccinated soldiers are unready to deploy and fight. The U.S. Armed Forces can and does require our troops to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We also require them to FOLLOW ORDERS."
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