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Five governors ask Pentagon to reconsider National Guard vaccine mandate

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo in late November that said Guard members must be vaccinated to participate in training or face loss of pay.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington on Sept. 29, 2021.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington on Sept. 29, 2021.Olivier Douliery / AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The governors of five states sent a joint letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking him to reconsider the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for National Guard members.

The letter from the governors of Wyoming, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Nebraska says they acknowledge that the Pentagon can set “readiness standards” for the National Guard when activated for federal duty. 

“However, directives dictating whether training in a Title 32 status (state duty) can occur, setting punishment requirements for refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated, and requiring separation from each state National Guard if unvaccinated are beyond your constitutional and statutory authority,” says the letter dated Dec. 14.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent his own letter to Austin informing the defense secretary that he has ordered the head of the Texas National Guard, Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, not to enforce the Covid vaccine mandate.

"Under this order, General Norris will not punish any guardsman in Texas for choosing not to receive the vaccine," Abbott said in the letter. "If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the State of Texas, they will have only President Biden and his Administration to blame."

Austin made Covid vaccination mandatory for all service members on Aug. 24 and directed the secretaries of the military services to issue their own implementation guidance and timelines. The mandate extended to all service members on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma wrote a letter Nov. 2 asking Austin to rescind the mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard. Days later, Stitt appointed a new adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, who said he would not enforce the mandate. 

In late November, Austin issued a memo laying out the consequences for those who refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The memo said they would face loss of pay and be marked absent without cause from drills and training. 

More than 400,000 people serve in the National Guard. They are paid with federal money.