Army to Separate National Guard Vaccine Refusniks

The next boot has dropped.

Airman 1st Class Thadyn DuPont, an aerospace medical technician with the 137th Special Operations Medical Group, prepares to administer a coronavirus vaccine for an Oklahoma National Guard soldier at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Norman, Okla., on Jan. 15, 2021. (Andrew LaMoreaux/U.S. Air National Guard photo)
Andrew LaMoreaux/U.S. Air National Guard photo

Over the weekend, I pointed to a vaccine standoff with the Oklahoma National Guard, with its top officer declaring he would refuse to enforce the mandate issued by the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of the Army has now fired a warning shot.

The Hill (“US Army Secretary: National Guard members who refuse vaccine will not ‘continue service’“):

U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth this week warned members of the National Guard that they may be barred from “continued service” if they refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I have determined that all soldiers who refuse the mandatory vaccination order will be flagged,” Wormuth wrote in a memo, according to The New York Times. This action would prevent soldiers from receiving promotions, awards and bonuses.

If members persist in declining vaccination without an approved exemption, she added, they will not be allowed to “continue service.”

[…]

On Wednesday, a Defense Department official reiterated the administration’s stance on the vaccine mandate for U.S troops. The official said Austin “can establish a medical readiness requirement that applies to members of the National Guard,” adding that failure to meet this readiness requirement “could jeopardize their status in the National Guard.”

More background from the above-mentioned NYT report (“The U.S. Army secretary to National Guard members who resist the vaccines: Prepare for discipline.“):

In Oklahoma, 89 percent of airmen in the Guard have been vaccinated, while only 40 percent of Army guardsmen have had shots; the deadline for members of the Army National Guard is coming next month. All branches of the military have been permitted to come up with their own vaccine mandate deadlines for active duty and guard troops, as well as their own punishment systems for refusing shots.

The Pentagon has been wary that other states may follow Oklahoma’s lead.

Texas Guard officials, for instance, said in an email that the Pentagon appeared to be imposing vaccine mandates on military and National Guard members without adequate protections in place for individuals with religious objections and hinted it, too, might permit members to skip the shots.

The governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy, has also issued a memo noting that “President Biden and his Administration have taken actions, or announced plans to act, that threaten the sovereign authority of the State of Alaska,” which included “imposing vaccine mandates on military and National Guard members without adequate protections in place for individuals with religious objections.”

In essence, Texas and Alaska appear to be engaged in a passive version of the Oklahoma written policy. “We are awaiting additional guidance from the Departments of the U.S. Army and Air Force that addresses National Guard requirements,” said Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Guard, in an email.

As noted in my previous post, the Guard is in a hybrid status, serving as both a state militia and a part of the Reserve Component of the US military. In the latter capacity, it not only reports to the head of the National Guard Bureau, which was strangely elevated to the level of a military service a decade ago, the Army Guard reports to the Secretary of the Army and the Air Guard to the Secretary of the Air Force. This creates some oddness in this situation.

For reasons not entirely clear to me, when the Secretary of Defense ordered all of his employees, uniformed and civilian, to get vaccinated, he delegated enforcement to the service chiefs, each of whom were allowed to set their own deadlines. Some have just passed and others won’t pass for months.

The Air Force (and Space Force) had a November 1 deadline and is already working to discharge those who didn’t meet it. DoD civilians like myself have until Monday to be “fully vaccinated.” (I reached the milestone in mid-April, long before there was a mandate.) The Navy (and Marine Corps) deadline is November 28. DoD contractors have until December 8. The Army has a December 15 deadline for active duty folks but a June 30, 2022 deadline for Army Reserve and Army Guard personnel.

Presumably, then, Guard personnel still have over seven months to get into compliance unless they’re activated into Title 10 status. Wormuth is, then, simply issuing a firm reminder that, regardless of the wishes of state governors and adjutants general, those wishing to continue drawing paychecks from Uncle Sam (not to mention, accrue retirement points, get promoted, etc.) will need to follow the lawful orders of the Secretary of Defense. But not for a while!

It’s also worth noting, considering some of the reactions to this standoff in the original post, that, while this current kerfuffle seems entirely a function of Republican grandstanding on the mandate, the tensions between the Guard’s dual role are longstanding. The most notable modern-era case to make it to the Supreme Court arose when longtime Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, challenged the right of the federal government to activate his forces for a 1987 federal training mission in Central America. Naturally, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Feds. But, even today, state governors fight hard to protect their authority when the central government tries to enforce policies they dislike.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Health, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    This strikes me as a net good. The military has too many extremists of various stripes and it strikes me that such people are more likely to be in this group. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Yep. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Wow. Come for the politics, get a Sound of Music ear worm.

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  4. Gustopher says:

    Separated is such an old word in the title. For a moment, I thought they would be rounded up and stuck somewhere physically separate from the rest of us — perhaps the FEMA re-education camps we’ve been looking forward to.

    I guess firing them is good too

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    Separated is such an old word in the title […] I guess firing them is good too

    It’s a weird word but one typically associated with discharge from the armed forces. You really can’t be fired from the military.

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  6. JKB says:

    It will be interesting to see whether they go vindictive and try to discharge on other than honorable terms, both for the NG and the active duty. That will guarantee that the vaccine mandate is a hot issue in 2024 regardless of the state of COVID. Any Republican wanting a chance will have to pledge to commute all discharges to honorable and any Democrat will have to support the Biden vindictiveness.

    Fun times.

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  7. Jen says:

    @JKB:

    “Vindictiveness”?

    It’s a vaccination. Like the dozens of other ones that enlisted personnel receive.

    Honestly, the incessant whining from conservatives about this is beyond tiring.

    A dishonorable discharge sounds about right for ignoring a direct order that has been implemented to protect others.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @JKB: So disobeying a direct order should result in an honorable discharge. Why?

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen: “Conservative” has come to mean, “Whiner with a chip on their shoulder, constantly looking for ways to be offended”. It’s one of the reason that I never talk politics with a Republican anymore. The constant whining is such a drag. And they never, ever, ever, accept any personal responsibility for their own woes. It’s boring.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    @Jen:

    A dishonorable discharge sounds about right for ignoring a direct order that has been implemented to protect others.

    Whatever discharge is deemed appropriate for other vaccine refusals is appropriate for this one. I neither know nor particularly care what that is, this isn’t a special vaccine, despite JKB’s desire for it to be so.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @JKB: @Jen: @MarkedMan: I don’t love the way DoD has handled this. There’s no reason to have service-specific deadlines rather than a universal one. Similarly, SECDEF has left the decision on how to treat discharges up to local commanders, which makes no sense whatsoever.

    The military isn’t going to waste the resources of trying these folks for refusing to obey a lawful order. So, I imagine they’d just get General discharges, which would entitle them to veteran status but not much in the way of benefits.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    By now, I’m sure they think it should result in a promotion.

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  13. JKB says:

    @James Joyner: I imagine they’d just get General discharges

    That would still leave it a political football.

    A large portion of those families the DoD draws their future members from aren’t pro-mandate, even if they are pro-vaccine. And it covers a lot of congressional districts. Few of the laptop class are doing to pick up a rifle and stand a post rather than sit at a desk and chatter online.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @JKB:

    A large portion of those families the DoD draws their future members from aren’t pro-mandate, even if they are pro-vaccine. And it covers a lot of congressional districts. Few of the laptop class are doing to pick up a rifle and stand a post rather than sit at a desk and chatter online.

    Refresh my memory on your military service?

    My late father served from 1962 until his retirement in 1982 and I served from 1984-1992. “Mandates” are very much a part of military culture. Indeed, one might say following lawful orders of the chain of command is an integral part of the experience. Oh, vaccines? I couldn’t tell you how many of them they pumped into me as we were mobilizing for Desert Storm. I don’t recall being asked whether I wanted them. There may or may not have been an option as to which arm/cheek but my memory is fuzzy on that.

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  15. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    The reason is that circumstances are different which a blanket discharge policy can’t account for. A refusenik may have other actions pending against them which also need to be adjudicated or may have priority. Or, circumstances may change the character of the discharge. There is a major difference between honorable, general, and OTH discharges. Services have different administrative procedures for processing discharges.

    Rank and time-in-service also play a role. For example, those of a certain rank or with a certain amount of time in service are entitled to an administrative board hearing before they can be involuntarily discharged and they can have a lawyer represent them at the hearing. Newer personnel in the Guard and Reserve can relatively easily be transferred to the IRR as an expedient way to get rid of them, others can’t. Oh, and for Guard and Reserve units, you have to put people on orders to accomplish these tasks which costs money – to include the member being discharged.

    Finally, WRT to the Guard, the UCMJ usually doesn’t apply to Guard members in title 32 status. Each state has their own state-level codes for military justice which can vary from state to state.

    Blacket policies work for active duty – they are much more tricky for the reserve and guard.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Good insights all. My position is mostly that, since this is SECDEF’s policy (really, POTUS’) there should have been a single deadline for Active Duty personnel to comply, regardless of Department, and general guidance issued as to how refusal should be adjudicated. I would assume that, for reasons of both expediency and politics, there would be no desire to initiate punitive proceedings for mere non-compliance, so administrative separation should be the default unless there’s a good reason (criminal charges pending on the one end or 90 days from retirement eligibility on the other) to deviate. Presumably, the same would generally apply to the Guard, even admitting that carrying out the policy is more complicated.

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  17. JKB says:

    @James Joyner:

    I only did 20 years in uniform. I’m familiar with military culture.

    And in the late 1990s, I was given, without notice, new vaccinations by the Navy (not my service) as part of a physical. After I realized what was happening, I consulted with my medical people and continued getting the shots (as well as some tests the Navy no longer did but my medical people required). Didn’t get the anthrax vaccine. I only mention it as it was on the table at one visit, but it never came up for me.

    My point is that the vaccine mandate is not popular with the normal pool of recruits and that will only be less so if those from those communities who oppose taking the vaccine are discharged even under a general. Rightly or wrongly, doesn’t matter. I do believe few would contend that those who refuse the vaccine shouldn’t be separated. But if the government wants to get past this it would likely quietly die if the separations weren’t adverse. Otherwise, it’s going to remain hotly political for quite a few years, just like the Vietnam draft dodgers.

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  18. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: ” So disobeying a direct order should result in an honorable discharge. Why?”

    Because they’re Republicans. And no penalty can ever attach to a Republican. Violate a direct order? Honorable discharge? Violently attack the capitol in an attempt to overthrow the government? Get nominated for congress? Bring an assault rifle into a riot zone so you can hunt and murder hippies? Get off scot free!!!

    Laws only apply to bad people — liberals and democrats and minorities. Laws exult the real Americans — the ones who love Trump.

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  19. wr says:

    @JKB: “Otherwise, it’s going to remain hotly political for quite a few years, just like the Vietnam draft dodgers.”

    It’s going to remain hotly political for as many years as Fox News thinks they can get morons riled up about it. Maybe you could give us some insight into that.

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  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: So the military (and the Congress/President) might have to either decide to take on fewer “democratization” efforts that that use temps, rent-a-soldiers reservists and guardsmen, return to a system of conscription, or come up with a national service scheme? I’m okay with that. And don’t worry about it affecting your family; we’ve always had exclusions that layered the burden onto the backs of the poor in the past and will be able to do it this time, too. Good news all around.

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  21. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    My position is mostly that, since this is SECDEF’s policy (really, POTUS’) there should have been a single deadline for Active Duty personnel to comply, regardless of Department, and general guidance issued as to how refusal should be adjudicated.

    Yeah, I think that’s reasonable. I can understand some leeway to ensure all the services can meet the deadline, but it does seem like there is too much leeway.

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