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Army Nat’l Guard may kick out 14,000 vaccine refusers despite recruiting struggle

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the Florida Army National Guard 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at the Tirana Int'l Airport May 15, 2021, in Tirana, Albania. (Staff Sgt. Elizabeth O. Bryson/U.S. Army)
June 29, 2022

As many as 14,000 Army National Guard troops around the country could soon be kicked out of the service for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccines. This move could come even as the military has struggled across the board with recruiting and maintaining its force size goals.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that up to 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers — about 13 percent of the Army Guard force — across the country have not yet taken the COVID-19 vaccine as mandated for the whole military. Of those 40,000 Army Guard troops, around 14,000 have outright refused the vaccine and could be among the first to be kicked out when the Army Guard’s June 30 vaccine deadline passes on Thursday.

While 14,000 vaccine refusers are at risk of being kicked out of the Army Guard, the service has struggled with keeping up the recruiting that would maintain their goal force levels.

All U.S. military branches have struggled with recruiting this year, including the Army National Guard. As of June 15, the National Guard Bureau reported it had reached 48.1 percent of its recruiting goal for the 2022 fiscal year, the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) reported Tuesday. The Army now has just three months to meet its recruiting goal for the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

The Army Guard has fallen behind its recruiting goals in the past. NGAUS reported the service has not met its recruiting goal since 2019 and only reached 80.6 percent of its goal in the 2021 fiscal year. While recruiting has lagged in other recent years, NGAUS reported the Army Guard has been able to make up the difference for its overall force size goal in the past through “excellent retention.”

In addition to the 14,000 Army Guard troops that have flatly refused the vaccines, another 7,000 troops are still awaiting a final decision on their requests for a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate.

Army Guard director Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen has vowed the service will try to exhaust its options before potentially separating thousands of its service members.

“We’re going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career,” Jensen told the Associated Press. “Every soldier that is pending an exemption, we will continue to support them through their process. We’re not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed. There’s still time.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), who has been a vocal critic of the military-wide vaccine mandate, criticized the news that the Army Guard may ultimately go through with separating thousands of its troops.

“It’s a political purge, plain and simple,” Massie tweeted. “At this point, there’s no scientific reason for mandating a vaccine based on COVID strains that are now three years old. Nearly everyone has natural antibodies to newer strains due to exposure.”