Pentagon chief tells GOP governors that National Guard must be vaccinated

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has informed seven GOP governors that their state’s National Guard members must be vaccinated against COVID-19, the latest in the ongoing dispute between Republican leaders and the Pentagon over the mandate.

Austin sent nearly identical letters last week to each of the governors who in mid-December asked him to drop the mandate, saying he had no power to implement it to Guard members, who are under state authority.

In his response, Austin said he had the power to implement the mandate “regardless of duty status,” adding that concerns over the vaccine “do not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement.” 

Failing to comply “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 said. 

Austin mandated vaccinations for the military in late August but left it up to each service to implement their own deadlines. Air National Guard members had until December to be inoculated, while Army National Guard members have until June 30 to comply.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) was the first to publicly oppose the mandate in November, when he asked Austin to exempt his state’s National Guard from the mandate. 

Stitt later appointed a new adjutant general of the Guard, who wrote a memo stipulating that no member was required to get the shot.

Austin turned down that request, and the state of Oklahoma then unsuccessfully sought to have a federal court enjoin the mandate.  

At issue are two federal laws that outline control of the National Guard. 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, placing it under federal authority.

Austin sent letters to Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R), Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R), Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R), all of whom signed on to a letter in mid-December asking him to drop the requirement.

He also sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who separately sent a letter in protest of the mandate and then sued the Pentagon, seeking to block it.

Dunleavy joined Abbott’s litigation last week.

In the letters to Abbott and Dunleavy, Austin said he couldn’t comment further on the “substance” of their concerns due to the ongoing litigation.

“COVID-19 takes our Service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements,” he wrote.

“To ensure that we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this Nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military,” he continued.

Tags brad little Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic coronavirus vaccine coronavirus vaccine mandate COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine COVID-19 vaccine mandate Greg Abbott Kim Reynolds Lloyd Austin Mark Gordon Mike Dunleavy National Guard Pete Ricketts Tate Reeves
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