In a memo to military officials (pdf), Austin stressed that vaccination is “essential to the health and readiness of the force,” and that the secretary of the Army and the secretary of the Air Force, in coordination with the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness and the chief of the National Guard Bureau, should “establish policies and implementation guidance to address the failure to maintain this military medical readiness requirement by members of the non-federalized National Guard who remain unvaccinated.”
Unvaccinated members of the National Guard who fail to get their COVID-19 shots by the June 30, 2022 deadline will be barred from participating in drills, training, and other duties, unless they are granted an exemption in accordance with department policy, according to the memo.
National Guard members who remain unvaccinated by next year’s deadline will also not receive any payment from the Department of Defense for their performed duties.
Additionally, members who do not comply with the mandate deadlines may be ousted from the National Guard.
Austin stated that “no credit or excused absence shall be afforded to members who do not participate [in] drills, training, or other duty due to failure to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Similar guidance is set to be issued to members of the Ready Reserve, in addition to the policy issued by the secretaries of the Army and the Air Force, with respect to members of the non-federalized National Guard, Austin wrote in the memo.
“The policies and implementation guidance directed by this memorandum shall be published no later than December 6, 2021. As I’ve said before, vaccination of the Force will save lives and is essential to our readiness,” Austin said, before thanking military officials for their “continued leadership and focus on this critical mission.”
Austin’s memo comes just days after he rejected a request from Oklahoma authorities for an exemption to the vaccine mandate for National Guardsmen.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this month asked Austin to suspend the vaccine requirement for Guardsmen in the state because it “asks them to potentially sacrifice their personal beliefs in order to not lose their jobs,” noting that some 10 percent of Oklahoma’s force could be lost if the mandate remained in effect.
“It is irresponsible for the federal government to place mandatory vaccine obligations on Oklahoma national guardsmen which could potentially limit the number of individuals that I can call upon to assist the state during an emergency,” he wrote in the Nov. 2 letter (pdf).
But Austin in his response, dated Nov. 29, said military leaders imposed the mandate with the aim of keeping the military ready for action, noting that thousands of service members, civilians, and their families with COVID-19 have required hospital care.
The concerns Stitt outlined “do not negate the need for this important military readiness requirement,” Austin added.
The Oklahoma National Guard declined to comment on Austin’s letter.
In a Sept. 14 statement, the Army announced that all active-duty troops must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15 and that all other service members—National Guard and Reserve members—have until June 30, 2022 to get the vaccine.
On Sept. 3, the Air Force announced that all active-duty service members must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 2. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members face a deadline of Dec. 2.
Meanwhile, the Navy and Marine Corps announced on Sept. 1 deadlines of Nov. 28 and Dec. 28 for active-duty service members and reserve members, respectively.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.