Austin to Governors: Guard Troops Must Get COVID-19 Vaccine
WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in letters to seven governors, reaffirms the need for members of their states’ Army and Air National Guard to have mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or to lose their custodial status.
In nearly identical letters signed late last week, Austin tells governors that the virus is “removing our service members from combat, either temporarily or permanently, and impairing our ability to meet mission demands,” according to copies obtained Monday. by the Associated Press.
The letters, which have not been made public, come as the military services begin to increase the number of active duty soldiers fired for refusing the vaccine. Nearly 600 Marines, airmen and sailors were kicked out of the military or discharged from entry-level training at boot camps last week.
Two of the letters — to the heads of state of Alaska and Texas — note that they have an ongoing lawsuit regarding the vaccine and that Austin said limited his ability to comment further on their concerns.
Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska have filed lawsuits challenging the military’s vaccination mandate, but a federal judge has already dismissed Oklahoma’s challenge. The Alaska governor was one of five Republican heads of state who sent a letter to Austin asking him not to apply the warrant to National Guard troops. The other four were governors of Wyoming, Mississippi, Iowa and Nebraska.
The last letters were addressed to these five governors as well as to Idaho and Texas.
Austin’s response to them mirrors the letter he sent in late November to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, defending the department’s vaccine mandate as necessary to maintain military readiness and force health. . At the time, he warned that failure to get vaccinated “could result in the member being barred from participating in drills and training” and could “jeopardize the member’s status with the National Guard.” .
In the new letters, Austin changed a key word in that sentence, telling governors that failure to get vaccinated will “lead to” barring members from participating in drills and putting their status at risk.
“To ensure that we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this nation and protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the army,” including the Guard, he said.
Governors receiving the letters were: Governor of Wyoming Mark Gordon, Governor of Alaska Mike Dunleavy, Governor of Mississippi Tate Reeves, Governor of Nebraska Pete Ricketts, Governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds, Governor of ‘Idaho Brad Little and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, all Republicans.
Alaska has joined the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Texas has more than 20,000 National Guard members, the largest contingent of any state. About 40% of its Army National Guard are currently refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine “for religious or other accommodation needs,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in east Texas.
He added that more than 200 Texas Guard Airmen are also refusing the vaccine.
The deadline for Air Guard members to get vaccinated has passed, but Army Guard members have until June.
Thousands of active duty military members and reservists seek medical, administrative or religious exemptions or refuse injections. But overall, the percentage of soldiers, especially active duty members, who received the vaccine early is high – with at least 97% in every service having received at least one vaccine in the past week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 87% of the US population age 18 or older has received at least one vaccine.
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