Nov 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pentagon to respond "appropriately" after Oklahoma Guard moves not to follow vaccine mandate

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard are on standby ahead of a campaign rally for a U.S. President Donald Trump at the BOK Center, June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard stand by ahead of a campaign rally for former President Trump in June 2020 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Department of Defense will respond "appropriately" to a decision this week by the Oklahoma National Guard to rescind the Pentagon's requirement for service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Driving the news: "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," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Axios in a statement.

  • "That said, [Defense] 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," Kirby added.

State of play: The Pentagon's statement comes after Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, who now oversees the Oklahoma National Guard, "rescinded" the requirement.

  • Mancino cited a written request from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to Austin asking DOD to "immediately consider suspending the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for national guardsmen in Oklahoma."
  • The Republican governor is "awaiting a decision" from the Defense secretary, Mancino wrote in the memo dated Thursday.
  • "No negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine," according to the memo.

The big picture: Mancino earlier this week was selected by Stitt to replace Gen. Michael Thompson, who had supported COVID-19 vaccinations and said that members who do not receive the vaccine would be advised on alternative options.

  • Thompson told reporters on Thursday that he learned he'd been relieved of duty via social media.
  • A spokesperson for Stitt, who has vocally opposed the vaccine requirement for Oklahoma National Guard members, told AP that Mancino's hire was not due to the vaccination policy.
  • "The governor had been exploring making a change for a number of months, and Thompson had submitted his resignation" in October to take effect in January, spokesperson Carly Atchison said, per AP.
  • Thompson told the Tulsa World that the governor had asked him to resign in October but that they agreed he would remain in place until January.
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