The newly appointed commander of the Oklahoma National Guard will no longer require guard members to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or punish them if they do not, defying the Department of Defense’s mandate that all service members be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to the Oklahomian, Brigade General Thomas Mancino sent a memo on Thursday ordering that none of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 10,000 members be required to take a COVID-19 vaccine. In August, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said all military members must immediately begin to get COVID-19 shots.
Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, appointed Mancino on Wednesday and directed him to institute the new vaccine policy, a spokesperson for the governor told the Washington Post. Mancino’s predecessor, Major General Michael Thompson, advocated for troops to get COVID-19 jabs and tweeted about getting a booster shot last month. Thompson told the New York Times that he believed his ouster was politically motivated; Stitt has been vocally opposed to vaccine mandates and wrote a letter asking the Department of Defense to suspend the mandate for members of the guard, arguing that it violates their personal freedoms.
“We will respond appropriately,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in response to the news. “That said, Secretary Austin believes that a vaccinated force is a more ready force. That is why he has ordered mandatory vaccines for the total force, and that includes our National Guard, who contribute significantly to national missions at home and abroad.”
The Post adds that Stitt’s gambit may serve as a model for other states led by Republican governors who oppose COVID-vaccine mandates. In the meantime, Oklahoma guard members would still be subject to the federal vaccine mandate if they are placed on active overseas duty or another federally mandated assignment.