In the wake of a federal judge rejecting Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s attempt to block the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for National Guard members, the head of the Oklahoma National Guard announced Thursday that unvaccinated airmen will no longer be allowed to drill.
While U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino has backed the governor’s position that he won’t enforce the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, in his Thursday message, he told members of the Oklahoma Air National Guard that because of the state’s loss in court, they will not be allowed to participate in their monthly drill weekends unless they get the vaccine or have an exemption.
“The Department of Defense has indicated it will recoup any pay provided to unvaccinated airmen who drill after Jan. 1, 2022,” Mancino said in the message, noting that the Pentagon could “enforce this threat outside of the State of Oklahoma’s control.”
“With no possibility of injunctive relief before Jan. 1, 2022, I have decided to not allow unvaccinated Oklahoma Air National Guard Drill Status Guardsmen, without a medical exemption or religious accommodation request, to participate in any future drill period, except for any airmen wishing to be vaccinated,” the message read.
Mancino added that Stitt agreed with this decision, which only applies to those who serve in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and have a Jan. 1 vaccination deadline. The men and women in the Army National Guard have until June 2022 to get vaccinated.
Mancino’s directive comes two days after Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot denied Oklahoma’s request for a preliminary injunction, saying that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has the constitutional authority to enforce a vaccination mandate upon service members, including those of the National Guard.
“Adding a tenth FDA-approved vaccine to the list of nine that all service members are already required to take would hardly amount to ‘an enormous and transformative expansion of the regulatory authority’ the Secretary of Defense already possesses,” Friot, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote in his opinion.
Regarding Stitt’s argument that he as governor could shield Guard members on state duty from the vaccine requirements, Friot said that idea “bespeaks a fundamental misapprehension as to the allocation of authority over the Guard as a specifically-designated reserve component of the armed forces of the United States.”
The case is not over, according to Mancino’s message. Although Friot has dismissed a request for preliminary injunction, the legal challenge against the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate is still ongoing, and the state can appeal the injunction.
“I continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, if you choose, and will continue to facilitate that option for any Airmen who wish to take it,” Mancino said.