Oklahoma National Guard must comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Pentagon says

The newly installed head of the Oklahoma National Guard last week said that he will not require troops under his command to be vaccinated against their will.

Updated: November 15, 2021 - 7:17pm

The Pentagon said that it has the authority to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on members of the Oklahoma National Guard, despite claims from the state's adjutant general that he will not force his troops to obey the Defense Department's sweeping directive. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “has the authorities he needs to require this vaccine across the force, including the National Guard,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday while speaking to reporters.

“It is a lawful order for National Guardsmen to receive the COVID vaccine," Kirby said. "It is a lawful order. Refusing to do that, absent an approved exemption, puts them in the same potential [for punishment] as active-duty members who refuse the vaccine.”

The newly installed head of the Oklahoma National Guard last week said that he will not require troops under his command to be vaccinated against their will.

Mancino, who took office Nov. 10, wrote in the memo that "no negative administrative or legal action will be taken" against guard members who do not get the vaccine.

Governor 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 has not directly responded to Stitt, but will “respond appropriately,” Kirby said.

Officials with the Oklahoma National Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.