Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made clear for the second day in a row that he expects the Oklahoma National Guard to enforce the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates — and Tuesday, he put real money on the table.
In a memo dated Nov. 30, Austin said for the first time that the Department of Defense would withhold pay from unvaccinated guard members, even if they were technically following state orders.
“No Department of Defense funding may be allocated for payment of duties performed under title 32 for members of the National Guard who do not comply with Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccination requirements,” the memo reads. Austin further clarified that guardsmen who cannot train or drill because of their unvaccinated statuses can claim no credits or excused absences.
The memorandum is in response to an effort by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to declare the state’s National Guard exempt from the military’s COVID-19 mandate. Stitt wrote to Austin at the beginning of the month to request an exemption, then proceeded to replace the adjutant general of the guard, Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson — who had publicly supported vaccination efforts — with Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino. Mancino ordered the Oklahoma National Guard to not enforce the mandate.
U.S. Defense Secretary Austin’s memo on national guard and reserve needing to be fully vaccinated otherwise funding will be withheld. pic.twitter.com/tpYAzUPnFH
— Idrees Ali (@idreesali114) November 30, 2021
Austin did not formally respond to Stitt’s original letter until yesterday, writing that the Department of Defense did not see Stitt’s maneuvers as legitimate.
“The concerns raised in your letter do not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement,” Austin wrote.
According to the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Performance Report available on the Oklahoma Senate website, the Oklahoma National Guard received almost $60 million in federal funding in 2021. It is unclear how much of that funding goes directly toward paying guard members or how the Department of Defense plans to track vaccination statuses and dock pay when both personnel and payroll are managed at the state level.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Monday that no other state governors had contacted Austin with similar plans or concerns. The memorandum stated that the same policy would be in effect for the Ready Reserves.
“As I’ve said before,” Austin wrote in Tuesday’s memo, “vaccination of the Force will save lives and is essential to our readiness.”