Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered that all members of the National Guard and Reserve must get vaccinated against Covid-19 or face loss of pay and being marked absent without cause from drills and training, according to a copy of a memo obtained by NBC News.
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.
Austin responded to Stitt on Monday, denying his request to rescind the mandate for the Oklahoma National Guard. What remained unclear, however, was how the Pentagon planned to enforce the mandate when members of the National Guard are on state duty. Most of the time, including when they are training, members are on state duty and answer to their governors.
The memo Austin issued Tuesday lays out three ways the Pentagon can enforce the mandate across the country, even when members of the Guard are on state duty.
According to the memo, which was sent to the service secretaries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of Pentagon personnel and the highest-ranking officer in the National Guard, known as the chief of the National Guard Bureau, members must be fully vaccinated to participate in drills and training.
If they do not participate, they will get no credit for time served and will not receive excuses for their absences, which will affect the days they accumulate toward retirement. They will also not be paid when they are training or activated on state duty if they are not vaccinated. Members of the National Guard are paid with federal money.
Austin ordered the secretaries of the military branches and the Pentagon’s personnel chief to issue similar guidance to apply to the Guard and Reserve members of their respective branches. The policies and implementation guidance must be published no later than Monday.
More than 400,000 people serve in the National Guard. The Oklahoma National Guard has about 8,000 members.