Unvaccinated Oklahoma Air National Guard members will not be allowed to participate in drills

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Dec. 30—OKLAHOMA CITY — The adjutant general for the Oklahoma National Guard said Thursday that unvaccinated airmen may not participate in drills after Jan. 1, 2022.

In an emailed statement, Adjutant Gen. Thomas Mancino informed members of the Oklahoma Air National Guard that due to the state's loss in court on Tuesday, members must be vaccinated or they cannot participate in the National Guard.

The message is an about-face from Wednesday, when a spokesperson for the Guard said unvaccinated airmen would not face repercussions.

"The Department of Defense (DoD) has indicated it will recoup any pay provided to unvaccinated airmen who drill after Jan. 1, 2022," Mancino said in the message. "The Department of Defense controls the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and can enforce this threat outside of the State of Oklahoma's control ... With no possibility of injunctive relief before Jan. 1, 2022, I have decided to not allow unvaccinated Oklahoma Air National Guard Drill Status Guardsmen, without a medical exemption or religious accommodation request, to participate in any future drill period, except for any airmen wishing to be vaccinated."

This new directive only applies to men and women in the Oklahoma Air National Guard, as the deadline for Army National Guard soldiers to be vaccinated is this summer.

Mancino said while he does not agree with this decision and "fully supports the governor's authority over the Oklahoma National Guard," his duty is to follow the rule of law, and he "owns" this decision.

Thursday's announcement comes after a Tuesday decision from Senior U.S District Judge Stephen P. Friot, who ruled against Gov. Kevin Stitt and said the National Guard is included in a Pentagon directive mandating vaccinations for service members.

As reported by The Transcript Wednesday, the Oklahoma National Guard initially said it would continue following Stitt's order not to comply with the federal mandate until it received further guidance. Neither the governor's office nor the Oklahoma National Guard responded to questions Thursday about whether the new direction was a decision from Stitt or Mancino.

Mancino's email said the case is not over, as Friot's Tuesday decision rejected a temporary injunction that would have blocked the mandate from going into effect while legal challenges play out. The legal challenge is still ongoing, and the state can appeal the injunction.

Although he did not reply to questions, Stitt did say in a statement: "I have done everything in my power under the law to protect the freedoms of Oklahoma Guardsmen. President (Joe) Biden's decision to mandate COVID vaccines will weaken our operational readiness by driving good men and women out of the Guard by violating their personal and religious freedoms."

In his ruling Tuesday, Friot pointed out that guard members are already required to receive a number of vaccines, and said the COVID vaccine mandate "should be understood against the backdrop of other military immunization mandates."

Earlier this month, Oklahoma National Guard officials said about 11% — or 250 servicemen and women out of the 2,280-member Air National Guard — remained unvaccinated. The official also said about 60% of the 6,500-member Oklahoma Army National Guard remained unvaccinated ahead of the June 2022 deadline.

Reese Gorman covers politics and COVID-19 for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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