A seventh Republican governor is asking Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to reconsider COVID-19 vaccination requirements for National Guard members.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Defense Department on Thursday, two days after the governors of Alaska, Mississippi, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming sent a similar letter to Austin.
“The State of Texas will not enforce this latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate against its guardsmen,” Abbott wrote. “If the federal government keeps threatening to defund the Texas National Guard, I will deploy every legal tool available to me as Governor in defense of these American heroes.”
Abbott originally ordered his adjutant general, who commands National Guard troops in the state, not to enforce any federal vaccination mandates back in October. This would mean that Texas Guardsmen can still serve in their state militia functions ― including state mobilizations at the Mexico border ― but they are jeopardizing their ability to participate in activations that draw federal pay and benefits.
While National Guard troops are only considered under the defense secretary’s control during a Title 10 activation, state-controlled Title 32 status is federally funded, giving DoD a foothold with which to enforce its mandate.
A handful of Republican governors, however, have argued that DoD can’t enforce the mandate while troops are technically under their governor’s control.
“If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the State of Texas, they will have only President Biden and his Administration to blame,” Abbott wrote.
Austin first announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations at the end of August, when Pfizer’s vaccine product earned Food and Drug Administration approval. Since then, each military service has created its own deadlines and involuntary separation processes for refusals.
In early November, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt became the first governor to push back against the Pentagon’s mandate, asking Austin not to enforce it for Oklahoma troops. Austin formally refused the request, and Oklahoma has since filed suit against the DoD.
Abbott’s letter takes things a step further, threatening a mass exodus of troops who would, presumably, be involuntarily discharged for refusing vaccination.
“This willingness to hollow out the National Guard is unconscionable in the face of growing global threats and a border crisis created by the Biden Administration,” he wrote.
The total numbers of refusals won’t be known until at least July, after the Army National Guard’s June 30 deadline passes.
As of Thursday, 98% of the active duty Army is at least partially vaccinated, but the service has not released similar statistics for its Guard force. But as of Wednesday, about 826,000 soldiers are at least partially vaccinated, making up 82% of the total Army, Guardsmen included.
Air National Guard members have until Dec. 28 to finish their vaccine series.
As of Dec. 14, more than 92% of the Air National Guard is at least partially vaccinated, according to Air Force data, and roughly 2,000 medical or administrative exemptions have been approved. Another 3,600 religious exemptions are in process.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT