Army Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, who was appointed this week, sent a memo to Oklahoma National Guard members on Thursday saying that the state’s 10,000 Guardsmen will not be required to get the vaccine and that any unvaccinated troops will not face repercussions for choosing not to take the shot.
“I hereby order that no Oklahoma Guardsmen be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine, notwithstanding any other federal requirement,” the memo read.
“Oklahoma Commands will continue to process Federal vaccine waivers in accordance with DOD policy.
“Additionally, no negative administration or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the vaccine.”
However, the memo acknowledged that any Guardsmen being federally mobilised will be required to be vaccinated.
The Pentagon has vowed to “respond appropriately” after it issued a federal vaccine mandate for all 2.1 million US military service members back in August.
Earlier this month, Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking for the vaccine mandate to be suspended for members of the state’s National Guard.
Governor Stitt said that around 10 per cent of its troops did not want to take the shot and said it would be “irresponsible” to reduce the force by that size.
"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," the letter read.
"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."
But, the pushback ramped up this week when the governor appointed Brig Gen Mancino as adjutant general for Oklahoma and commander of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard.
On Wednesday, Governor Stitt suddenly relieved Maj Gen Michael Thompson from the position and announced Brig Gen.Mancino’s appointment instead.
Maj Gen Thompson had served as adjutant general since November 2017 and had encouraged his troops to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
In October, he posted a photo on social media of himself getting the booster shot.
He told the New York Times he believes his ousting was politically motivated saying “there’s not another reason for it”.
Brig Gen Mancino, who is yet to be confirmed by the state Senate, sent the memo to Guardsmen the day after the shake-up.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told The Washington Post the Defense Department was “aware” of the memo sent to the state’s Guardsmen.
"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," he said in a statement.
"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."
The Independent has reached out to the Pentagon for further comment.
The move from Oklahoma officials highlights the tug-of-war going on between the federal government and several Republican-led states when it comes to vaccine mandates.
On Friday, a federal appeals court sided with Republican attorneys general of states including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah, as well as several private companies and extended a stay on the Biden administration’s enforcement of a federal vaccine mandate for private businesses with 100 or more employees.
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