Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the head of the Oklahoma National Guard, acknowledged on Friday that current laws provide little coverage for service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to The Hill.
“Anyone exercising their personal responsibility and deciding not to take the vaccine must realize that the potential for career ending federal action, barring a favorable court ruling, legislative intervention, or a change in policy is present,” Mancino wrote in a statement.
Mancino also noted that state authority is limited in protecting troops who opt out of the shot.
The Pentagon required vaccinations for all military personnel in August. However, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, pressed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to exempt his state’s National Guard from the vaccine mandate.
Austin refused, initiating a crisis of authority for the National Guard – which falls under the joint authority of the state and the federal government.
Mancino warned Guardsmen that he could not ward off the mandate when troops are called up for drills or further schooling, as those institutions fall under the control of federal authority.
“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. I have no such power,” Mancino wrote.
“As I have said, continued service in the National Guard will require connections with Title 10 authority,” he added. “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.”
The U.S. House of Representatives’ latest version of the annual defense policy bill would provide an honorable discharge for those who refuse vaccination.