Oklahoma bid for National Guard exception to denied vaccine mandate


WASHINGTON (AP) – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday denied Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s request that his state’s National Guard be exempt from the Pentagon’s request that all Military members must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Stitt, a Republican, was ask Austin in early November suspension of duty for members of the Oklahoma Guard. In his response to denying the request, Austin outlined the Pentagon’s rationale for the mission and noted the potential consequences of Stitt’s stated intent to defy the request.

In a letter to Stitt, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Austin left open the question of how the vaccine request would be enforced and how far the Pentagon would go to make it happen. . He has suggested that Guardsmen who refuse to shoot could lose their federal status, which could affect their future wages and benefits.

Austin wrote that all members of the Oklahoma Army and the Air National Guard, “regardless of duty status,” must follow the instructions of the Army and Air Force service secretaries regarding the timing of their duties. COVID-19 vaccine compliance deadlines. “Failure to do so may result in the prohibition of the member from participating in exercises and training” implemented under Title 32 of the United States Code, “and jeopardize the membership of the Force.” National Guard.”

The dispute is the first major test of the military’s authority to order National Guard soldiers to fire, and it could form the basis for legal battles with nations that oppose the claim. vaccine demand.

To date, Stitt is the only governor to openly challenge the military mandate.

2 letter to Austin, Stitt wrote that the assignment “violates the personal liberties of many Oklahomans, as it requires them to sacrifice personal beliefs in order not to lose their jobs.” He said the state needs its Protectors members for hurricanes and other weather emergencies, and he asserted that the federal government would be “irresponsible to place mandatory obligations vaccine for the Oklahoma National Guard, which may limit the number of individuals I can call on to assist the state in an emergency. ”

In his reply, Austin wrote: “The concerns raised in your letter do not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement.”

By order of Stitt, the state The new adjutant, Brig. General Thomas Mancino, issued a memo telling its troops they did not need to shoot and that “no negative administrative or legal action” would be taken against them if they refused.

The first people affected could be members of the Air Self-Defense Force of Oklahoma, who must be vaccinated through December 2 by a deadline set by the Air Force. Protracted questions included whether unvaccinated Air Self-Defense Force members reporting for monthly drills in December or January were required to fire, or be sent home, or given permission to do so. reassign if they decline.

Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said about 89% of the state’s Air Force – estimated at more than 2,000 troops – have been vaccinated. The Air Defense Force ratio is expected to reach about 95% by the end of December deadline, a military official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss statistics that have not been made public.

Austin’s decision was widely expected, as the Pentagon has argued for months that vaccines are critical to maintaining a ready force that can be deployed immediately to protect the nation. Defense leaders say that as head of defense, Austin can set medical requirements for the military, including the Guard and Reserve, and that governors have no authority relieve the army of those demands.

Vaccines against a variety of diseases have long been required for the military, with some as many as 17 for deployment around the world. And defense officials warn that service members who refuse to comply will risk losing their National Guard jobs.

However, the National Guard presents a unique case. When the Guards are on duty in the state, such as responding to local events, they report to the governor and are paid by the state. But during monthly or yearly training or when they are responding to larger disasters in the state, they are in what is known as Title 32, and are controlled by the governor but funded by the federal government.

The Guard can also be activated for federal duty, including for overseas deployments, under a different status, known as Title 10, which treats them like active duty troops, under federal control and funding.

Brig is retired. General J. Roy Robinson, president of the US National Guard Association, said in an interview that Guardsmen often have gaps or delays in their annual or routine medical requirements. surname. And they often come, he said, for a monthly exercise or a two-week annual training session that requires various vaccines or physical and dental exams.

However, Robinson said he believes that until a service member is activated in Title 10 status and is under the control of the federal government, the state retains any authority to enforce requirements, such as vaccines.

More than 1,000 members of the Army and Air Self-Defense Forces, about 13% of the state’s 8,200 troops, have said they will not get the vaccine, according to Stitt’s office, according to an internal survey. the set. Atchison added that about 40% of Oklahoma’s Guard members have been vaccinated, but they won’t be vaccinated until June of next year, by a deadline set by the Army. Oklahoma bid for National Guard exception to denied vaccine mandate

Dais Johnston

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