Pentagon chief says guard who refuses COVID-19 vaccine can’t train – Community News
Covid-19

Pentagon chief says guard who refuses COVID-19 vaccine can’t train

WASHINGTON >> Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ruled that National Guard members who refuse COVID-19 vaccination will be barred from federally funded exercises and training necessary to maintain their Guard status.

Austin detailed the policy in an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press. In the memo, he ordered military service leaders to issue guidelines next week on how to deal with members of the Guard who fail to meet military medical preparedness requirements by refusing the vaccine.

“Vaccination is essential to the health and preparedness of the force,” he wrote.

All members of the military must be vaccinated unless they are officially exempted for medical or other reasons.

The armed forces have set different deadlines for active and reserve troops. Air Force members must be vaccinated by December; Members of the Army Guard have until June. Austin’s policy will only affect Guard members when the vaccination deadline set by their service has been met.

Federal law requires National Guard members to meet for drills and participate in training a certain number of days a year.

Austin said those Guard members who are not allowed to participate in exercises because of their refusal to be vaccinated will not be paid by the Department of Defense. And they won’t receive credit that would count toward retirement and other federal benefits. Austin told service officials to implement that policy in consultation with the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon’s top personnel officer.

When Guard troops are on active duty of the state, such as responding to local emergencies such as flooding, they report to their governor and are paid by their state. But during monthly or annual training or when responding to larger state emergencies, they are controlled by the governor but funded by the federal government. This is known as Title 32 status, which is different from situations where Guard members can be called up to active duty for federal service, known as Title 10 status.

In explaining the consequences of refusing the vaccine, Austin applied to the entire National Guard the same policies he had drafted in response to Oklahoma Gov’s request. Kevin Stitt to exempt his Guardsmen from the vaccine mandate. Stitt has argued that as governor, he has the power to allow members of the Oklahoma Guard to avoid the vaccine while under state control.

In a Nov. 2 letter to Austin, Stitt wrote that the mandate “violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans because it asks them to potentially sacrifice their personal beliefs in order not to lose their jobs.”

In his reply Monday, Austin denied Stitt’s request, saying the governor’s concerns “do not eliminate the need” to be vaccinated. Oklahoma is the only state so far that claims it can circumvent Austin’s mandate.

The Pentagon considers the COVID-19 vaccines critical to maintaining a ready force — active and reserve — that can be deployed when needed to protect the nation, and members of the National Guard are part of that force.

According to National Guard Bureau figures, by November 22, 70% of Guard members had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 62.6% were fully vaccinated. Those numbers may be too low for vaccinations, as some members of the Guard may have been vaccinated outside the military system and their records are not fully updated.