The adjutant of the Oklahoma National Guard has admitted that troops who do not comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate should prepare for “career-ending federal action.”
Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the state’s top Guard officer, made his remarks in a Thursday statement that began with a strong defense of military members under his command who are exercising their “personal responsibility” as well as “the right not to take the vaccine.”
But that came with the caveat that his authority and that of GOP Gov. Kenny Stitt in the matter only goes so far since the vast majority of Guard funding comes not from states but from the Defense Department.
“Anyone exercising their personal responsibility and deciding not to take the vaccine must realize that the potential for career ending federal action, baring [sic] a favorable court ruling, legislative intervention, or a change in policy is present,” Mancino wrote.
National Guard units are in a unique position compared to their active duty components because they serve a dual purpose: First to their states, then to federal service. While on state duty they operate under Title 32 statutes and answer to governors, but when they are called into service by the Pentagon they operate under Title 10 orders and fall under the command of the president.
“The Governor has used his authority under Title 32 to grant you a limited safe harbor within his authority to not be subject to Title 10 negative actions for not taking the vaccine,” Mancino noted.
The distinction is important because there are times when Guard members are placed on Title 10 orders and are then answerable to the Pentagon, but that has been at the center of the battle between Stitt and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the governor amid threats from the Pentagon to withhold pay for unvaccinated troops.
Mancino, toward the end of his statement, did note that he is “fully vaccinated, plus the booster.”
“I believe the vaccine to be safe and effective against COVID-19 based on the millions of doses administered,” he wrote, adding that in the end, for Oklahoma members, “continued service in the National Guard will require connections with Title 10 authority.”
“Such connections including training events, schools, and mobilizations are going to eventually force you out of that safe harbor, and subject you to title 10 authorities. This is reality,” he noted.
Oklahoma may not be the only state that takes the route Stitt and Mancino — who answers to the governor — have taken. Last week, a Stitt spokesperson told Military.com that at least five other GOP governors are considering the same option.
Ultimately, the fight will test the limits of Title 32 and Title 10 authorities for National Guard members, but Mancino made clear there could be consequences for unvaccinated Oklahomans serving in uniform.
“It is important you do not mistake my vigorous defense of the Governor’s rights under Title 32 as a guarantee you will not face consequences from Title 10 authority,” Mancino wrote. “I have no such power.”
To that end, on Friday U.S. Navy officials said that the executive officer of a warship had been relieved of his duties, reportedly for refusing to take the vaccine and refusing to be tested.
Cmdr. Lucian Kins was fired from his position as second-in-command of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Winston Churchill, by Navy Capt. Ken Anderson, commander of Naval Surface Squadron 14, the Associated Press reported.
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