Defense Sec. Austin tells GOP governors their National Guardsmen must receive COVID-19 vaccine

The Pentagon chief sent letters to seven red state governors saying the military vaccine mandate must be enforced within the National Guard.

Updated: February 2, 2022 - 3:11pm

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has notified seven Republican governors that their state's National Guard troops must be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

In a message sent to the state leaders, Austin said that his position gives him the authority to implement the vaccine mandate "regardless of duty status." The governors had previously asked Austin to drop the mandate, arguing that he had no power to enforce it among Guardsmen who are under state authority.

Continued refusal to comply with the mandate, Austin said, will "lead to a prohibition on participation in drills, training and other duty conducted under title 32 and will jeopardize the member's status in the National Guard."

The Pentagon chief this past summer mandated vaccines for the entire military but has allowed each branch to come up with its own deadlines. Members of the Air National Guard were given until December 2021 to receive the shots, while Army National Guardsmen have been given until the end of June.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt was the first state leader to request that Austin drop the mandate in November. Austin declined the request, and Stitt would later appoint an adjutant general of the Guard who has told the service members that they are not required to get the shot.

Austin and the GOP governors are split over two federal laws that give alternating control of the National Guard to the governors and the president. Under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, governors control the guard unless they are mobilized for federal duty. But, under Title 10, the president can mobilize the Guard, which places them under federal control. 

Stitt's efforts were joined by other such GOP governors as Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Tate Reeves of Mississippi, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Brad Little of Idaho, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, and Mike Dunleavy of Alaska. Greg Abbott of Texas also received a letter from Austin after the former sued the Pentagon attempting to block the mandate. Dunleavy has since signed onto Abbott's suit.