Oklahoma National Guard defies Pentagon, won't impose COVID-19 vaccine mandate
“No Oklahoma Guardsman will be required to take the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino wrote in a Thursday memo.
The newly installed head of the Oklahoma National Guard has ordered that troops under his command will not be forced to comply with the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the armed forces.
“No Oklahoma Guardsman will be required to take the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino wrote in a Thursday memo. The memo was at odds with a Defense Department directive that the "total force" - including the National Guard - must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Mancino noted in the memo that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is the organization's “lawful Commander in Chief” when not under federal orders, implying that Stitt - not Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin - has the final call on any vaccine mandate.
Mancino wrote in the memo that "no negative administrative or legal action will be taken" against guard members who do not get the vaccine.
Mancino was appointed on Wednesday as adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, replacing former Adjutant General Michael Thompson.
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 Mancino, according to an official with the Oklahoma National Guard.
The Pentagon is aware of the memo and the letter from Stitt, and “will respond to the governor appropriately,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Military Times.