Pentagon says it will respond to Oklahoma's governor after state's National Guard rejects its vaccine mandate
By Jamie Crawford, National Security Producer
(CNN) -- The Pentagon said it would respond to Oklahoma's Republican governor after the state's National Guard indicated it would thwart a Defense Department mandate that troops be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Department said it was "aware" of a memo issued this week by the Oklahoma National Guard's recently installed adjutant general which said the organization would not enforce the Department's vaccine mandate for its troops. The Pentagon mandated in August that US military service members get fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The news in Oklahoma comes as multiple Republican-led states and other groups have filed suit to stop the Biden administration's vaccine requirement for federal contractors. And a federal appeals court on Friday reaffirmed its earlier decision to freeze a separate vaccine mandate that private businesses employing more than 100 workers require vaccination or impose testing guidelines for those not vaccinated. The two rules, slated to go into effect in January, cover about 100 million Americans.
"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. "That 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."
In the memo to Oklahoma National Guard members issued Thursday and obtained by CNN affiliate KOKH-TV, Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino said the Oklahoma National Guard has rejected the Defense Department's requirement that all service members receive the coronavirus vaccine and will allow personnel to opt out of the policy without repercussions. According to the memo, however, if they are federally mobilized, members must be vaccinated.
Earlier this month, Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt sent a letter to Sec. Austin requesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates be suspended for members of the state's National Guard.
"We estimate that over 800 Oklahoma guardsmen have not and do not plan on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. This constitutes 10% of Oklahoma's overall force," Stitt wrote. "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."
Earlier this week, Stitt named Mancino to be adjutant general for Oklahoma and commander of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard. Mancino's appointment requires confirmation by the Oklahoma State Senate. The former adjutant general Mike Thompson, who was abruptly relieved Wednesday, was a supporter of the Covid-19 vaccine and received a booster shot last month.
CNN has reached out to Stitt's office and the Oklahoma National Guard for further comment on this matter.
Earlier this year, Stitt signed into law SB 658, which largely prevented school boards from mandating masks or vaccinations, except under specific circumstances.
In August, Sec. Austin said in a memo he was directing the Military Department services to "immediately begin full vaccination" of all Armed Forces members or those in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not yet fully vaccinated.
"After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people," he said.
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