Oklahoma National Guard vs. Pentagon on vaccine mandate

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

This weekend there was yet another dustup in the ongoing debate over Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates and their uneven impact on the military. There’s been some discontent brewing among the ranks in the Oklahoma National Guard and in the Governor’s office for a while now, but things seem to have come to a head in recent days. A shakeup in leadership at the National Guard resulted in the mandate for vaccinations being “rescinded.” This puts the White House and the Department of Defense in a somewhat awkward and unusual position. They’re generally accustomed to giving orders and having the specified military personnel salute smartly and carry them out. So now the Secretary of Defense may wind up in a staring contest with some of the people he’s expected to lead and direct. (Yahoo News)

The Department of Defense will respond “appropriately” to a decision this week by the Oklahoma National Guard to rescind the Pentagon’s requirement for service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are aware of the memo issued by the Oklahoma Adjutant General regarding COVID vaccination for Guardsmen and the governor’s letter requesting exemption. We will respond to the governor appropriately,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Axios in a statement.

The Pentagon’s statement comes after Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, who now oversees the Oklahoma National Guard, “rescinded” the requirement.

Going over some of the recent history involved here, it all seems to have started with Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. He was opposed to enforcing the mandate on Guard members while encouraging any of them who chose to be vaccinated to do so. In fact, Stitt had already sent a letter to the Department of Defense requesting an exemption for his troops. But the previous head of the state’s National Guard, Gen. Michael Thompson, had supported the vaccination mandate. He had already issued a directive saying the non-complying Guardsmen would be “advised on alternative options.”

On Thursday of this week, however, Thompson was informed (in some fashion) that he was being relieved of his command and would be replaced immediately by Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, a vocal opponent of the vaccination mandate. Mancino almost immediately sent out an announcement to the troops that the mandate had been “rescinded,” despite there having been no resolution yet between the Defense Department and the Governor. Thus far, all the Secretary of Defense has said (through spokesman John Kirby) is that they would be responding to the Governor “appropriately,” whatever that means.

There seems to have been some drama playing out between the Guard and the Governor and it didn’t just start this week. The Governor’s office claims that Stitt had been looking at making a change in the Guard’s leadership “for months.” He claims to have informed Thompson in October, at which point they agreed that Thompson would step down in January.

Thompson tells a different version of the story. He claims that the Governor asked him to resign in October, but they negotiated a bit and agreed he would stay on until January. Then, on Thursday, he said he only learned that he had been replaced via social media.

These stories clearly don’t match up, so there was something going on under the covers that isn’t being fully revealed yet. But the change has been made and Mancino is now the one in charge. The question is whether or not he can simply “rescind” an order that came down from above on his own say-so. The answer really should be “no” in terms of the military chain of command, but the National Guard units do operate a bit differently than the main branches of the armed forces at times. The rules leave open a few interpretations, but it’s generally the governors of the states who handle such things.

No matter how this standoff shakes out, what we clearly have here is yet another state of conflict being generated by Biden’s desire to enforce vaccine mandates as far as the eye can see. And when it’s causing divisiveness inside of our own military ranks, that’s a problem.