Though the head of the Oklahoma National Guard has said he won’t enforce the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, he announced Thursday that any airmen who continue to refuse vaccination after the Dec. 31 Air Force deadline will no longer be allowed to drill.
Anticipating that DoD will suspend pay for unvaccinated Oklahoma Guardsmen, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino warned troops that they will not be allowed to participate in their monthly drill weekends unless they have requested an exemption for the vaccine.
“All you can do as a leader is make the right decisions, for the right reasons, then own them all,” he wrote. “I own this one: With no possibility of injunctive relief before January 1st, 2022, I have decided to not allow unvaccinated Oklahoma Air National Guard Drill Status Guardsmen (DSGs), without a medical exemption or religious accommodation request, to participate in any future drill period, except for any Airmen wishing to be vaccinated. The Governor concurs with this decision.”
The announcement comes two days after a federal judge rejected Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s lawsuit against DoD, arguing that the department can’t enforce its mandate while troops are in a state-controlled, though federally-funded, drill status.
“The vaccine mandate to which the governor objects is the one — in addition to the nine that already apply to all service members — intended to protect service members from the virus which has, in less than two years, killed more Americans than have been killed in action in all of the wars the United States has ever fought,” U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot wrote in his decision Tuesday. “The court is required to decide the case on the basis of federal law, not common sense. But, either way, the result would be the same.”
Mancino added, in his statement, that he supports the governor’s decision not to enforce the mandate, that “this does not mean that the case is over,” but that he continues to encourage Oklahoma Guardsmen to get vaccinated.
The deadline for Army National Guard troops is June 30.
DoD, the National Guard Bureau nor the Army or Air Force Departments have said specifically how they plan to enforce vaccine mandates in non-compliant states, despite publishing policies that would eventually involuntarily separate troops who refuse vaccination.
The Air Force, for example, will require its reserve units to indicate whether each airmen is vaccinated, exempt, awaiting an exemption, or refusing, which could create a roster of troops to discharge.
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