Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered all members of the National Guard and Reserve to receive Covid vaccines or risk loss of pay and be marked absent without cause from exercises and training, according to a copy of a rating obtained by NBC News.
On August 24, Austin made the Covid vaccine mandatory for all service members and asked military service secretaries to issue their own implementation guidelines and timelines. The mandate extended to all servicemen on active duty or in the ready reserve, including the National Guard.
On November 2, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma wrote a letter to Austin, asking him to rescind the vaccination mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard. Days later, Stitt appointed a new adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard who said he would not apply the vaccination warrant.
Austin responded to Stitt on Monday, declining his request to quash the Oklahoma National Guard’s tenure. What remained unclear, however, was how the Pentagon planned to enforce the mandate of National Guard members while they were on duty. Most of the time, including when in training, members are on duty and report to their governor.
The memo released by Austin on Tuesday outlines three ways the Pentagon can enforce the mandate across the country, even when members of the Guard are on duty.
According to the memo, which was sent to duty secretaries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon chief of staff and the National Guard’s highest ranking officer, known as the chief of the National Guard office, members must be fully immunized in order to participate in exercises and training.
If they do not participate, they will not get any credit for time served and will not receive an apology for their absences, which will impact the days they accumulate for retirement. They will also not receive remuneration when they are in training or activated in public service if they are not vaccinated. Members of the National Guard are paid with federal money.
Austin ordered the secretaries of military branches and the Pentagon’s chief of staff to issue similar guidelines to be applied to members of the Guard and Reserve in their respective branches. Policies and implementation guidelines must be published no later than December 6, 2021.
More than 400,000 Americans serve in the National Guard. The Oklahoma National Guard has approximately 8,000 members.