National Guard troops who don’t take the COVID-19 vaccines could lose their national recognition and would only be considered state-level militia troops, the Pentagon warned on Wednesday.
Last week on his first day in command, Oklahoma National Guard Adjutant General Thomas Mancino issued a memo which said no Guardsmen will be ordered to take the COVID-19 vaccines and “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the COVID-19 Vaccine.” That state-level policy is at odds with a Pentagon policy that imposes a vaccine mandate across the entire federalized force.
“All Service members in the Active and Reserve Components are required to comply with the valid medical readiness requirement established by the Secretary of Defense to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Wednesday. “We are not aware of any Governor attempting to prohibit members from receiving the vaccine, and don’t see this as placing any individual member in conflict with state authorities.”
“Failure to receive the vaccine may jeopardize an individual member’s status in the National Guard,” Kirby said. “Any impact to a member’s status in their state militia is an issue for state authorities. The Governors may not relieve individual members of the Guard from their obligation to comply with this valid medical readiness requirement established by the Department.”
During a background call, a Pentagon official also said individual service members are still required to meet the Pentagon’s standards for federalized service regardless of any state-level policy. While Oklahoma National Guard troops, for example, might not be ordered by Mancino or Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to vaccinate, the federal-level vaccine requirement would still apply.
A loss of federal status would mean those individual unvaccinated Oklahoma guardsmen would still be considered state-level militia troops, but they would be ineligible for federal deployments or reimbursement for federally-ordered operations and training.
National Guard troops may be called up to federal service under Title 10 authorities or the president may authorize or direct a state’s governor to call up National Guard troops in response to a state-level emergency or training requirement while receiving federal reimbursement under Title 32 authorities.
Loss of federal status would mean guardsmen would not receive federal reimbursement for Title 10 or Title 32 deployments, nor would they receive credit for time served in a federal capacity.
“I did not initiate a civilian-military crisis just because I thought it was cool,” Mancino said in defense of his state-level vaccination policy, according to the Washington Post.
Mancino said he is vaccinated and encourages service members to be vaccinated. He also said if troops are placed under federal orders, he will carry out the federal vaccine mandate, but while Oklahoma National Guard troops remain in state-level status “my governor said it’s a personal choice” to vaccinate.
As of Nov. 2, about 800 Oklahoma guardsmen — about 10 percent of the state force — were not vaccinated against COVID-19. While military vaccination deadlines have already passed for active-duty members of the Air Force and Navy, the issue is further off for National Guard troops, who still have until June 23, 2022 to be fully vaccinated.