The Pentagon is preparing its response after the newly appointed adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard issued a memo stating Guardsmen will not be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and will receive “no negative administrative or legal action” for refusing the vaccines. The state-level policy defies President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for all military members.
“We are aware of the memo issued by the Oklahoma Adjutant General regarding COVID vaccination for Guardsmen and the governor’s letter requesting exemption. We will respond to the governor appropriately,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement to CNN on Saturday.
Gen. Thomas Mancino, the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, issued a memo on Thursday which said no Guardsmen will be ordered to take the COVID-19 vaccines and they will receive no punishment for refusing those vaccines.
Gen. Mancino issued the memo the day after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed him to replace Gen. Michael Thompson, who had served as the Oklahoma National Guard adjutant general since 2017.
In his statement to CNN, Kirby said, “Secretary (Lloyd) Austin believes that a vaccinated force is a more ready force. That is why he has ordered mandatory vaccines for the total force, and that includes our National Guard, who contribute significantly to national missions at home and abroad.”
On November 2, Stitt sent a letter to the secretary of defense, requesting the DoD suspend the vaccine mandate. Stitt’s letter noted over 800 Oklahoma guardsmen, or about 10 percent of the state’s Guard force, have not had and do not plan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, a spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard, “The clarified policy on COVID vaccinations for Oklahoma Army and Air National Guardsmen reflects the Governor’s ability to assert his command authority over the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard while they are within the state’s borders. The clarification will allow our unvaccinated Guardsmen to continue to serve in Oklahoma without any negative repercussion, but it does not provide any protection should they need to attend any military school or training activity run by an active duty component or the Department of Defense.”
Stitt’s decision to replace Thompson with Mancino comes amid his ongoing opposition to vaccine mandates from President Joe Biden’s administration. However, Stitt’s office has denied that he replaced Thompson as a result of his opposition to the vaccine mandates and said the change in command has been in the works since October.
Thompson had previously said that because of a state executive order by Stitt, the Oklahoma Military Department would not require state employees to be vaccinated. Thompson did, however, state, “Uniformed members and Title 5 federal civilian employees who elect not to receive the vaccine will be counseled regarding the consequences of not being vaccinated. These consequences will depend on the individual’s status.”