Pentagon responds to Oklahoma National Guard’s vaccine exemption request
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has rejected a bid from the Oklahoma National Guard that would give its members the freedom to not get vaccinated against Covid-19, with the Pentagon ruling vaccination to be mandatory.
In a letter on Monday, Austin formally rejected Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s request that the state’s National Guard be exempt from the Pentagon’s Covid-19 military vaccine mandate.
Austin also threatened action against unvaccinated members of Oklahoma’s National Guard, warning that refusal to get vaccinated “may lead to a prohibition on the member’s participation in drills and training” and could “jeopardize the member’s status in the National Guard.”
Though Governor Stitt expressed concern that the vaccine mandate could result in an understaffed National Guard, which would be less able to respond to state security threats and weather emergencies, Austin argued that such concerns did “not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement.”
The governor had requested an exemption in a letter earlier this month, claiming that the “irresponsible” vaccine 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.”
Oklahoma’s National Guard and the Pentagon have been engaged in a standoff since the Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, told his soldiers earlier this month that “no negative administrative or legal action” would be taken if they refused vaccination.
The state’s National Guard argued that the Pentagon’s mandate only applied to federal soldiers, not state, however the Pentagon has repeatedly threatened disciplinary action for all National Guard members who refuse to comply, calling it a “lawful order” and citing the Guard’s federal funding.