- Oklahoma’s adjutant general issued a memo saying he will not enforce the vaccine mandate for National Guard troops.
- According to a report from the Washington Post, several other state leaders are considering similar moves.
- An expert warned Oklahoma is putting its troops at risk by “playing high stakes Russian roulette” with the Pentagon.
The commanding general of Oklahoma’s National Guard is defending his decision not to punish any of the state’s Guardsmen who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in a high-stakes defiance of the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate for troops.
According to a recording obtained by The Washington Post, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino said he was only following orders from Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt during a town hall event with troops in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Amid signs that other states might follow Oklahoma’s suit, a military law expert warned that Mancino was putting the lives and livelihood of his Guardsmen on the line in the showdown with the Biden administration.
“If, for example, a sergeant in the Guard does not have the vaccine, they risk their own federal recognition,” Dwight Stirling, a military law expert, told Insider. “Which means they can be fired by the National Guard.”
Stirling, who is a former military attorney with the California National Guard and a founder of the Center for Law and Military Policy, said Mancino is “playing a high stakes game of Russian roulette” by not enforcing the DoD’s vaccine mandate.
“He’s putting at risk every member of the Guard who follows his order,” Stirling said. “It’s a fun parlor game to play in a conference room but in practice the governor is putting into risk the livelihood of every person under his command.”
Mancino issued his memo exempting Oklahoma National Guard troops from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Nov. 11, just one day after he was appointed by Stitt, who fired the previous commanding general. In the recording obtained by the Post, Mancino said “the only person liable to get in trouble here is me,” but experts say that isn’t the case.
“I did not initiate a civilian-military crisis just because I thought it was cool, right?” Mancino said, according to a report from The Washington Post.
A spokesperson for Stitt told the Post that multiple Republican governors have contacted the governor to discuss duplicating the order for their states.
The state’s National Guard reports to the governor, who acts as its commander-in-chief. But the federal government provides the bulk of its funding, which could force Biden to defund the Oklahoma National Guard — which contributed to the defense of the US Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection — until it is in compliance.
Stirling estimated that the federal government provides the Oklahoma National Guard with up to 90% of its resources.
On Thursday, the Army secretary ordered that all soldiers, including Guardsmen, who refuse vaccines without exemptions will be barred from promotion and re-enlistment. The Pentagon began requiring the vaccine in September to protect its troops.
Stirling said he’d be shocked if Oklahoma didn’t back down. “They’re playing a game of chicken with DC but when funding and equipment starts being revoked I fully expect they’ll back down,” Stirling said.
The Pentagon has not responded to a letter from Stitt requesting his state’s troops be exempt from the vaccine mandate but Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby reiterated to reporters this week that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has the authority to set mission requirements for all troops, including the National Guard.
“All service members in the active and reserve components, including members of the National Guard, must meet medical readiness requirements established by the secretary of defense,” Kirby told reporters Wednesday. “Continued service and participation and service by all service members requires that they meet such medical readiness requirements.”