As Army National Guard COVID-19 vax mandate deadline expires, states push back to stem force losses

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said last month the federal vaccine mandate for Guardsmen is one of the reasons he reestablished the Florida State Guard.
SGT Derrick Ngbome of the Illinois Army National Guard prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination center established at the Tinley Park Convention Center on January 26, 2021 in Tinley Park, Illinois.

As the Army National Guard prepares to force soldiers out of military service due to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline, some states are pushing back to prevent the loss of Guardsmen.

The Army National Guard vaccine mandate deadline expired on Thursday, with more than 40,000 Guardsmen not yet fully vaccinated and about 14,000 of them saying they do not intend to receive the vaccine, according to NBC News. Another 7,000 have requested exemptions, many of them religious.

"Beginning July 1, 2022,members of the Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve who have refused the lawful DOD COVID-19 vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption may not participate in federally funded drills and training and will not receive pay or retirement credit," the Army said on Friday.

"Soldiers who refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands. In the future, Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an exemption may be subject to additional adverse administrative action, including separation.

"Unit commanders will be able to activate and pay Soldiers for limited administrative purposes, such as receiving the vaccine, processing their exemption requests, or conducting separation procedures. Soldiers will be paid and/or receive retirement credit for these service days."

Guardsmen will also still be paid by their states when they are on missions from their state governors, CBS News reported.

The Army said that as of Friday, 89% of its National Guard received one dose of the COVID vaccine and 87% are fully vaccinated.

In Florida, prior to the vaccine mandate deadline, the state already had one of the most understaffed National Guards in the nation, with about 12,000 troops, or one guard member per 1,750 Floridians.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said last month the federal vaccine mandate for Guardsmen is one of the reasons he reestablished the Florida State Guard.

"The U.S. military has been kicking out great service members over the Biden administration's unacceptable COVID vaccine mandate, and they are even targeting members of the National Guard," DeSantis said. "The bureaucrats in D.C. who control our National Guard have also refused to increase the number of guardsmen despite our increasing population, leaving Florida with the second worst National Guardsman to resident ratio. By reestablishing the Florida State Guard under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Graham, we have a great opportunity to expand our capability to help people in times of need or disaster."

More than 1,200 people have applied for the Florida State Guard's 400 open positions.

The governors of Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming have asked the Department of Defense not to enforce the vaccine mandate, according to Stars and Stripes.

Both Oklahoma and Texas have separately sued the federal government over the vaccine mandate for the National Guard, but they were denied preliminary injunctions against the enforcement of the mandate. Alaska also joined Texas' lawsuit.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to at least pause the mandate, although she believes it should be rescinded, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.

"More than 300 religious exemption requests have been submitted by members of the Alabama Army and Air National Guard, and to date, none have received a final determination," Ivey wrote. "As it stands, these men and women are on track to face consequences with no accountability from the policymakers."

While about 80% of the roughly 12,000 members of the Alabama National Guard are vaccinated, "it stands to lose at least 300 soldiers and up to 1,000 soldiers should this policy proceed," according to Ivey.

Minnesota's National Guard said on Thursday that more than 500 of its 13,000 soldiers are not vaccinated. New Jersey's National Guard said that 88 of its members (13%) are not vaccinated.

Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, along with several Republican members of Congress, wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to indefinitely delay the vaccine mandate, ABC local affiliate WVEC reported.

"A select number of [National Guard members] have made a decision not to get vaccinated and whether that decision is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, their own medical choices, or another matter of conscience, our nation should respect and accommodate it," the letter reads.

The elected officials said the mandate is not "consistent with the latest science" and has an impact on the readiness of the Virginia National Guard.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced legislation that would prevent federal funds from being "used to require a member of the National Guard to receive a vaccination against COVID-19."

In the Army, a total of 1,037 soldiers have been separated from the military for refusing the COVID vaccine since the mandate deadline for active-duty members expired on Dec. 15. The soldiers were released from the military in a year when all branches are having difficulty meeting their recruiting goals for the year, NBC News reported.