Nov. 14, 2021 -- Another state-federal battle over COVID vaccine mandates has broken out, this time in Oklahoma.
The new commander of the Oklahoma National Guard says he won’t enforce a mandate from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that all of the nation’s military personnel – including members of state National Guards -- have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino sent out a memo Thursday saying that people serving in the Oklahoma National Guard and Oklahoma Air National Guard are not required to be vaccinated and that "no negative administrative or legal action will be taken" against guard members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, The Oklahoman reported.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the DOD knew about Mancino’s opposition to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s COVID vaccine mandate and will respond “appropriately.”
“That said, Secretary Austin believes a vaccinated force is a more ready force,” Kirby said. “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.”
Under the federal mandate, National Guard troops face a June deadline to be vaccinated against COVID unless they can present a medical or religious exemption.
Control of National Guards falls into “a legal gray area,” Air Force Maj. Matthew Murphy, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, told Stars & Stripes.
Guardsmen are under a governor’s control while on state duty, which is most of the time. But when they’re “federalized,” as in an overseas assignment, they’re under DOD control, Murphy said.
Mancino was appointed last week by Gov. Kevin Stitt to replace Maj. Gen. Michael C. Thompson, who had encouraged troops to get vaccinated, The Oklahoman said. Stitt, a Republican, opposes vaccines mandates and had asked the DOD to lift the vaccine requirement for National Guard troops in the state, though he’s been vaccinated himself and contracted COVID in 2020.
Stitt’s office denied Thompson’s advocacy of the COVID vaccine played a part in his removal as commander, saying the change of command had been in the works since October, The Oklahoman reported,
About 10,000 people serve in Oklahoma’s National Guard and Air National Guard, The Washington Post said. The Post, citing an Oklahoma National Guard senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a survey showed about 13% of National Guard members in the state had not been vaccinated.