Oklahoma Guard goes rogue, rejects COVID vaccine mandate after sudden change of command

Oklahoma Guard goes rogue, rejects COVID vaccine mandate after sudden change of command

The new commander of the Oklahoma National Guard has declared the organization will not enforce the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on its troops, according to local media outlets.

Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino was announced as the state’s new adjutant general Wednesday, though he has not yet been confirmed by the state Senate, according to a press release from Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office.

On Nov. 2, Stitt formally requested that DoD not enforce the mandate on the state’s Army and Air National Guard members. In the letter, which his office posted online, he said that 10% of the state’s troops had refused the vaccine and that the mandate was “irresponsible.”

The state’s former top general, Army Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson told local reporters Thursday that he learned of his relief via social media. He was previously scheduled to transfer command to Mancino on Jan. 15, 2022, according to the Oklahoman.

The day after taking the reins from Thompson, Mancino issued a policy memo declaring that the state would not enforce the mandate on its troops when they are under state control. The move is an apparent rejection of DoD’s orders to discipline and ultimately discharge servicemembers who reject the vaccine.

“No Oklahoma Guardsman will be required to take the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Mancino says in the Thursday memo, which states that Stitt is the force’s “lawful Commander in Chief” when not mobilized by the federal government.

Although National Guard troops do belong to their governors when not mobilized by the Pentagon, federal requirements often supersede any state uses of the Guard, as senior leaders often emphasize. That’s because the vast majority of Guard funding, training and equipment comes from the federal government.

It’s not yet clear whether the order will jeopardize that funding.

Title 32, the section of the U.S. Code that pertains to the National Guard, includes a section specifying that states that do not comply with Title 32 regulations forfeit their federal funding for the Guard. It’s not clear, though, whether the vaccine mandate meets that legal threshold.

In a statement to the Oklahoman, the state’s top spokesperson, Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, explained that the memo “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.”

When Army Times reached out to the Oklahoma Guard, an official indicated that they were not authorized to make any statement or share the memorandum. National Guard Bureau and DoD spokespeople were unable to immediately offer comment, either.

It is not clear whether Thompson was fired because he refused to rescind a policy memo requiring troops to get the COVID-19 vaccine — he referred questions on the matter to Stitt’s office.

A previous vaccine policy memo from Thompson, which Mancino’s order rescinded, had indicated that there would be “consequences” for “uniformed members and Title 5 [federal] civilian employees” who declined the shot, according to the Oklahoman. The policy was in line with DoD guidance on the issue.

A spokesperson for Stitt’s office did not immediately respond to emailed questions from Army Times.

Davis Winkie is a staff reporter covering the Army. He originally joined Military Times as a reporting intern in 2020. Before journalism, Davis worked as a military historian. He is also a human resources officer in the Army National Guard.



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.