Defense Secretary Austin tells National Guard to get vaccinated or lose federal pay

The order comes amid a standoff between Austin and the Oklahoma National Guard over whether to enforce the Pentagon's vaccine mandate.

Updated: December 1, 2021 - 8:25am

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The Pentagon has ordered all National Guard and Reserve members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be barred from training and from being paid, according to a memo signed Tuesday by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"No credit or excused absence shall be afforded to members who do not participate in drills, training, or other duty due to failure to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19," Austin wrote in a memo to military service secretaries and other leaders. 

The memo comes amid a standoff between Austin and the Oklahoma National Guard, whose adjutant general has said that he will not compel his troops to obey the Defense Department's sweeping mandate that the entire force, including the Guard, must be vaccinated. 

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this month asked Austin to suspend the vaccine mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard. 

"It is irresponsible for the federal government to place mandatory vaccine obligations on Oklahoma national guardsmen which could potentially limit the number of individuals that I can call upon to assist the state during an emergency," Stitt wrote in a Nov. 1 letter to Austin.

"This mandate violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans, as it asks them to potentially sacrifice their personal beliefs in order to not lose their jobs," Stitt wrote. "All of our national guardsmen take this calling very seriously. These are patriotic citizens who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect others in our communities during times of greatest need."

Austin's memo clarifies his position that the Defense Department can enforce the vaccine mandate even while troops are on duty with their states. 

"All members of the National Guard must be fully vaccinated in order to participate in drills training and other duty conducted under Title 32, U.S. Code," Austin wrote.

The reference describes the law wherein a state governor is authorized by the president to activate the National Guard within his or her state. Troops under Title 32 orders serve on active duty under state control, but with pay and benefits provided by the federal government.

"No DoD funding may be allocated for payment of duties performed under Title 32 for members of the National Guard who did not comply with vaccination requirements," Austin wrote.

The memo did not specify how the Pentagon would identify individual Guard members whose pay would be withheld.

A spokesperson for Stitt did not immediately return a request for comment.