Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that members of the Army National Guard who refuse to comply with the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate would be prohibited from undergoing the required training and drills they need to maintain their status as Guardsmen.
In an internal memo to leaders of the armed forces, according to the Associated Press, Austin spelled out the new policy, directing leaders of the four service branches to publish guidance dealing with men and women serving in the National Guard who refuse the vaccine. “Vaccination is essential to the health and readiness of the force,” Austin said.
The vaccine requirement is part of the military’s medical readiness requirements, the AP reported. All members of the armed services are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they receive an exemption for medical or other reasons.
Austin directed the service leaders to publish their guidance by next week.
National Guard members are reserve members of the armed forces under the auspices of the federal government, but their funding, and by extension, pay, come from separate sources, the AP notes. Under their normal state active duty, Guardsmen report to the governor of their state and are funded and paid by the state. However, when they report for scheduled training, as they must do at certain times of the year under federal law, or are responding to federally declared emergencies, they operate under the authority of the state but are paid by the federal government, a procedure called Title 32 status. This is also different from Title 10 status, which is only for when Guardsmen are called into federal active duty, in which case they both report to and are paid by the federal government.
Austin wrote in the memo that Guardsmen who do not get vaccinated will be disallowed from participating in training. As a result, those members will also not receive pay. They will also not receive credit towards their military benefits, including retirement benefits.
Branches of the service with a National Guard contingent have separate deadlines between branches. The Air Force has given the airmen in the Air National Guard until December to get vaccinated. The Army, on the other hand, has given soldiers in the National Guard until June to comply with the vaccine mandate.
According to the National Guard Bureau, via the AP, “70% of Guard members had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Nov. 22 and 62.6% had been fully vaccinated.” The AP notes that those records may not be up to date, as they do not account for members who were vaccinated by civilian means and have not recorded their vaccination records with the military.
A group of federal workers and military service members previously sued to block enforcement of the Biden administration’s mandate for federal employees and contractors, including the military. The Biden administration announced the Executive Order mandating vaccines for federal employees in September.