The head of the Oklahoma National Guard won’t require his troops to comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but Tennessee National Guard (TNG) troops should not expect their superiors to follow the Oklahoma’s commander’s lead.
TNG spokesman Darrin Haas said Monday that his commanders will enforce Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“We are going to enforce the mandate as recommended by the Department of Defense — and that’s it,” Haas told The Tennessee Star.
“There is no change to what we’re doing.”
Communications staff for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee — who has the power to oversee and activate the TNG — did not return The Star News’ request for comment Monday.
In Oklahoma, Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino said that that state’s Governor Kevin Stitt is the organization’s “lawful Commander in Chief” when not under federal orders, implying that Stitt — and not Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — has the final call on any vaccine mandate.
Mancino wrote in a memo that “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken” against guard members who do not get the vaccine.
Mancino was appointed last week as adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, replacing former Adjutant General Michael Thompson. Stitt earlier this month asked Austin to suspend the vaccine mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Austin has not directly responded to Mancino, according to an official with the Oklahoma National Guard.
The Pentagon is aware of the memo and the letter from Stitt, and “will respond to the governor appropriately,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Military Times.
Haas told The Star last week that, in line with Department of Defense policy, TNG staff will punish members who do not vaccinate themselves against COVID-19.
TNG personnel will discharge any members who decline to vaccinate themselves, Haas said at the time.
“We are following all of the Department of Defense mandates and policies, and we are making it mandatory for all National Guard troops to get vaccinated. We just started our vaccination program, and right now they have until next June. If they choose not to vaccinate then they will eventually be discharged. It will be a general discharge under honorable conditions,” Haas said.
“And then if six months pass and you go without any legal problems you can request to turn it into an honorable discharge. Then they [the troops] will also be given a full reenlistment code so that if they decide to come back in the Guard they will maintain their same rank. All they have to do is be vaccinated when they come back.”
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Tennessee National Guard” by The National Guard. CC BY 2.0.