Oklahoma’s National Guard is defying the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate that requires servicemen to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandate was issued in August by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. However, the newly appointed commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino has done away with the vaccination requirement.
“I hereby order that no Oklahoma Guardsmen be required to take the COVID-19 Vaccine, notwithstanding any other Federal requirement… Oklahoma Command will continue to process Federal vaccine waivers in accordance with DoD policy… Additionally, no negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Mancino wrote in a memo that was issued just a day after he was appointed to command the National Guard.
Mancino also added that the state’s Governor, Republican Kevin Stitt, has contacted Austin and asked for waivers for the vaccine mandate. A decision on the issue is pending. In a letter to Austin dated Nov. 2, Stitt stated that the vaccine mandate violates the freedoms of many Oklahomans as it asks them to compromise their personal beliefs to keep their jobs.
The governor estimates that around 800 guardsmen, who roughly constitute 10 percent of the overall force, have not been vaccinated and do not plan on getting a jab.
“It is irresponsible for the federal government to place mandatory vaccine obligations on Oklahoma national guardsmen which could potentially limit the number of individuals that I can call upon to assist the state during an emergency,” the letter states.
Governor Stitt appointed Mancino to his post after removing Maj. Gen. Michael C Thompson who advocated getting troops vaccinated. Last month, Thompson also publicized getting a booster shot.
In an interview with The New York Times, Thompson warned troop members that there are “consequences” for refusing vaccination. He accused Stitt of pressuring military leaders of the state to oppose federal vaccine mandates and insisted that he was relieved from his position due to “political” reasons. However, Stitt’s office has dismissed such suggestions.
“The governor had been exploring making a change for a number of months, and (Gen.) Thompson had submitted his resignation… Once the governor selected (Gen.) Mancino as his replacement, the governor decided to move up the timeline,” Carly Atchison, the governor’s spokesperson, told the AP.
According to Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, the public affairs officer for the Oklahoma National Guard, Governor Stitt’s actions against the vaccine mandate are based on his belief that he has “complete control” of the state’s National Guard troops.
Normally, the National Guard is controlled by the state and the president has the power to federalize the guards whenever necessary. But since President Biden has not yet federalized the guards from Oklahoma, the state’s decisions are said to have more weight. In Mancino’s memo, Stitt is called the “lawful Commander in Chief” of the Oklahoma National Guards until they are mobilized federally under Title 10.
The Pentagon has announced that it will look into the issue.
“We will respond appropriately… That said, Secretary 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,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. Kirby did not clarify how the Defense Department plans on responding to the matter.