Defense secretary Lloyd Austin says Oklahoma National Guard members must get vaccinated

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  • Lloyd Austin
    American military officer and 28th US Secretary of Defense
  • Kevin Stitt
    American politician
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, shown here testifying to the House Armed Services Committee in September, rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's request to exempt Oklahoma National Guard members from the vaccine mandate.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, shown here testifying to the House Armed Services Committee in September, rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's request to exempt Oklahoma National Guard members from the vaccine mandate.

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard must get vaccinated against COVID-19 regardless of their duty status or personal beliefs, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday.

Guard members who don’t get vaccinated may be barred from participating in drills and training, and their status in the Guard could be jeopardized, Austin told Stitt in a letter.

“To maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of protecting the American people, the immediate vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Oklahoma National Guard,” Austin said in a letter to Stitt dated Monday.

More: New Oklahoma National Guard leader changes COVID-19 vaccine policy

Stitt sent a letter to Austin earlier this month requesting that members of the Oklahoma National Guard be exempted from the Defense Department’s vaccination mandate, which covers active duty personnel, Guard, Reserves and civilian workers.

“This mandate violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans, as it asks them to potentially sacrifice their personal beliefs in order to not lose their jobs,” Stitt wrote.

Austin responded that his decision to mandate vaccinations stemmed “directly from my responsibility as the Secretary of Defense to promote the health, safety, and readiness of our military personnel, regardless of duty status, to include all members of the National Guard performing any duty or training. … The concerns raised in your letter do not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement.”

Charlie Hannema, a spokesperson for Stitt, said Monday, “Gov. Stitt appreciates that Secretary Austin responded to his letter and maintains his position that the governor is the commander-in-chief for all members of the Oklahoma National Guard while they are on Title 32 status.”

Oklahoma Adjutant General Thomas H. Mancino issued a memo earlier this month stating that the governor of Oklahoma is the lawful commander in chief of the state National Guard when members are in Title 32 status, rather than mobilized under federal status.

More: What are omicron variant symptoms? Everything to know about the latest COVID strain.

Under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, National Guard members are under the control of the governor but paid by the federal government.

Mancino’s memo ordered that no Oklahoma Guardsmen be required to be vaccinated and said “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the COVID-19 Vaccine.”

Pentagon officials have rejected Mancino’s statements that Guard members can ignore the vaccination mandate if they are not on federal status, noting that the Guard is always federally funded.

In his letter, Austin stated, “In accordance with the Presidential authority in title 32, U.S. Code, section 110, to prescribe regulations and issue orders necessary to organize, discipline, and govern the non-Federalized National Guard, all members of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard, regardless of duty status, must follow the directions of the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force, respectively, for specific COVID-19 vaccine compliance deadlines and requirements.

“Failure to do so may lead to a prohibition on the member's participation in drills and training conducted under Title 32 and jeopardize the member's status in the National Guard.”

Members of the Air National Guard and reserves must be vaccinated by Dec. 2 — this Thursday. Members of the Army National Guard have until June 30, though those called up for federal orders after Dec. 15 must be fully vaccinated.

More: Stitt shakes up state's National Guard leadership

Two weeks ago, according to the Oklahoma National Guard, 40% of the state’s Army National Guard members were fully vaccinated, and another 6% were partially vaccinated; 89% of Air National Guard members were fully vaccinated.

Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said at a news briefing Monday that Guard leaders would have to determine what specific actions to take against those members who don’t get vaccinated.

Repercussions and consequences would be felt on an individual level, Kirby said, and could mean that a Guard member would not be paid if he or she refused to get vaccinated.

“It’s an individual’s ability to maintain service and participation in the National Guard that will be mostly affected,’’ Kirby said.

Kirby said no other governors had requested vaccination exemptions for Guard members.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Defense secretary says Oklahoma Guard members must get vaccinated

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