(The Hill) — The newly appointed commander of the Oklahoma National Guard is refusing to enforce the Department of Defense’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for troops.
Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino wrote in a memo that no member of the Oklahoma National Guard will be required to get vaccinated, according to The Oklahoman, which obtained the memo.
The memo further states “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken” against guardsmen who refuse to get vaccinated.
Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, a spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard, told the newspaper that the memo is intended to allow guardsmen to serve in the state without fear of being punished.
However, “it does not provide any protection should they need to attend any military school or training activity run by an active-duty component or the Department of Defense,” Legler added.
The Hill has reached out to the Oklahoma National Guard for further comment.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated that all uniformed personnel get vaccinated for the coronavirus in mid-September, although the deadline to do so varies across branches.
The Air Force had until earlier this month to comply with the mandate, while Air National Guard troops and reserves have until Dec. 12. Meanwhile, Army reservists and National Guard troops have until June 30, 2022, to be inoculated.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) announced Wednesday that he appointed Mancino to serve as the state’s Adjutant General and National Guard commander. However, he still has to be confirmed by the state Senate.
Stitt has been vocally opposed to vaccine mandates; earlier this month, he wrote a letter asking Austin to suspend the mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard, arguing that it violates their personal freedoms.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told The Hill in a statement that the department is aware of Mancino’s memo and Stitt’s letter, adding that the agency will “respond to the governor appropriately.”
“That said, Secretary Austin believes that a vaccinated force is a more ready force,” Kirby said. “That is why he has ordered mandatory vaccines for the total force, and that includes our National Guard, who contribute significantly to national missions at home and abroad.”