Overnight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen

It's Tuesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE mandated on Tuesday that all members of the National Guard get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

We’ll have more on that today, details on the bills President signed for veterans and the United States' warning on Russia escalating tensions with Ukraine.

For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Write me with tips at jwilliams@thehill.com

Let’s get to it.

National Guard ordered to get COVID-19 shot

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote a memo on Tuesday ordering all National Guard and Reserve service members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face loss of pay.

The memo comes as the Pentagon clashes with the Oklahoma National Guard over the mandate. 

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) asked Austin on Nov. 2 to exempt his state’s national guard from the mandate. Shortly after, he appointed a new adjutant general of his state’s Guard and directed him to write a memo stipulating that he would not enforce the vaccine mandate. 

Austin rejected Stitt’s request on Monday, but Tuesday’s memo now makes clear the consequences for refusing the vaccine and how they will be implemented

What Austin said: “Unless otherwise exempted in accordance with Department policy, all members of the National Guard must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by the deadlines established by the Army or Air Force, as appropriate, or must subsequently become vaccinated, in order to participate in drills, training and other duty conducted under title 32, U.S. Code,” Austin wrote. 

Should the service members not comply, “no Department of Defense funding may be allocated for payment of duties performed,” and “no credit or excused absence shall be afforded to members who do not participate in drills, training, or other duty.”

Austin also ordered the secretaries of the military branches and the Pentagon’s personnel chief to issue policies and implementation guidance for Guard and Reserve members,  to be published no later than Dec. 6. published 

Coming deadlines: Austin first made vaccinations mandatory in late August, but left it up to each military service to issue their own deadlines. 

The Air Force set Dec. 2 as the deadline for Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel, while the Army set a June 30 deadline for its reservists and guardsmen

Read the full story here.


Biden signs four bills aimed at helping vets

President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE signed four bipartisan bills on Tuesday aimed at addressing disparities in benefits, creating recruiting programs and addressing the maternal health crisis for veterans and military members.

What are the bills? One bill spearheaded by Sen. Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockKelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks Dems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill MORE (D-Ga.) will require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to assess whether there are disparities associated with race and ethnicity among veterans benefits.

A second bill, the Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act, directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a program to recruit military medical personnel who have less than a year left in their service to work in federal health care occupations.

The third bill, the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act, aims to help reduce out-of-pocket education costs for surviving spouses and children of members of the military.

The final bill, Protecting Moms Who Served Act sponsored by Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthWe must learn from the Afghanistan experience — starting with the withdrawal As democracy withers, Bob Dole and other American soldiers must be remembered Overnight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen MORE (D-Ill.), commissions the first comprehensive study on the scope of the U.S. maternal health crisis among veterans with a focus on racial and ethnic disparities.

The measure authorizes $15 million for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ maternity care coordination program to help ensure coordination between VA facilities and non-VA facilities in delivering maternity care, facilitation access to resources, and offering classes in parenting, nutrition, breastfeeding, lactation, and breast pumps.

Who attended the signing? Biden was joined by a room full of senators and House members. Also in attendance were Vice President Harris and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dennis McDonough.

What Biden said: “We have many obligations, but we only have one truly sacred obligation mind you and that is prepare those we send into harm’s way, care for their families when they’re gone and care for them and their families when they’re home. That’s a lifetime commitment, a lifetime commitment the nation owes to every one of our veterans,” the president said. 

Read the full story here


The U.S. warned of “serious consequences” on Tuesday if Russia escalates its conflict with Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable Biden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia MORE continues to mobilize troops on the Ukrainian border. 

Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting with NATO officials in Riga, Latvia, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenRussia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia Blinken: Russian attack on Ukraine could be launched with 'very short notice' MORE warned that “any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”

“Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States," he continued. "We will be consulting closely with NATO allies and partners in the days ahead ... about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defenses, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity.” 

Other NATO ministers warn Russia: The comments are just the latest as NATO grows more worried that Russia will invade Ukraine like when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Russia, for its part, has repeatedly brushed off any concerns of an invasion, and has instead accused Ukraine of having aggressive intentions.

Several of NATO’s foreign ministers also warned that any effort to destabilize Ukraine would be costly.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said NATO will “together send an unmistakable message to the Russian government: NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken and its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty are not up for discussion,” according to The Associated Press. 

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss similarly reinforced the alliance’s support for Ukraine

We have seen this playbook from the Kremlin before when Russia falsely claimed its illegal annexation of Crimea was a response to NATO aggression,” Truss said in a statement. “NATO is an alliance forged on the principle of defense, not provocation. Any suggestion that NATO is provoking the Russians is clearly false.”

“Any action by Russia to undermine the freedom and democracy that our partners enjoy would be a strategic mistake,” she continued.

Read the full story here

Biden's new pick for Pentagon weapons buyer 

President Biden

President Biden on Tuesday nominated former Air Force acquisition chief Bill LaPlante to serve as undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

LaPlante, who is currently the head of the non-profit Draper Laboratory, would fill a post that has been vacant since Ellen Lord stepped down on Jan. 20. 

The president previously tapped Defense Innovation Unit Director Michael Brown for the role, but Brown withdrew his nomination in July amid an inspector general investigation into his tenure as the head of the Pentagon’s emerging technologies incubator.

About LaPlante: LaPlante served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition technology and logistics from 2014 to 2017. After leaving that role, he became senior vice president of MITRE’s national Security Sector.

While working in weapons buys, LaPlante stressed fixing an unwieldy military acquisition system that struggled to keep pace with changing technology.

He often advocated for using more technologies in military programs to get new weapons and technologies to war fighters.

Read the full story here.





That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Wednesday.