Defense secretary warns unvaccinated National Guard members won’t be paid

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned on Tuesday that unvaccinated members of the National Guard won’t be paid and won’t be allowed to participate in training, drills and deployments.

In a memo to the Joint Chiefs chairman, the service secretaries and the head of the National Guard Bureau, Austin wrote that Pentagon funds cannot be used “for payment of duties performed under Title 32 for members of the National Guard who do not comply” with the military’s vaccine requirement.

Title 32 refers to National Guard operations under state orders, as opposed to operations under federal orders, which are called Title 10. Both are paid for by the federal government.

Austin’s memo comes a day after he rejected a request for an exemption to the vaccine mandate from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. In a letter written earlier this month, the Republican governor had argued that the requirement “violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans” and could cause them to “potentially sacrifice their personal beliefs.” Stitt also argued that Oklahoma would need all of its National Guard members for the upcoming winter and the possibility of winter storms.

But Austin dismissed these arguments. “The concerns raised in your letter do not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement,” he wrote in a letter to Stitt on Monday.

Nevertheless, Stitt did not appear ready to back down. He insisted that he remains the commander in chief of the Oklahoma National Guard as long as it operates under Title 32 orders.

Stitt had instructed his recently appointed commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, not to enforce the mandate. Mancino, who acknowledged it put him in an awkward situation, said that under state orders, his commander was the governor. But he also said that if the guard were called up under federal orders, he would enforce the vaccine requirement.

On Tuesday, Austin made clear the consequences of a failure to comply with the military’s vaccine mandate, regardless of whether the guard unit was operating under state or federal orders.

In the memo, first reported by NBC News, Austin said members of the National Guard must become vaccinated “in order to participate in drills, training and other duty conducted under title 32.”

“No credit or excused absence shall be afforded to members who do not participate in drills, training, or other duty due to failure to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” he wrote.

Austin also said the vaccination requirement applies to the Ready Reserve, a component of the military’s reserve forces that must be prepared for mobilization within a specified period of time.

On Monday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby reiterated that guard members’ failure to get vaccinated risks their participation in the National Guard.

“One could elect not to take the vaccine, of course, but then you would be putting at jeopardy your ability to stay in the National Guard,” Kirby said at a news briefing.

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