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Army guidance says vaccine mandate repeal does not apply to National Guard, Reserves


Daily Caller News Foundation

  • The Army’s latest COVID-19 policy states that Congress’ 2023 defense bill, which overturned the Department of Defense’s military vaccine mandate, does not address orders given to the National Guard and Reserves, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation. 
  • A November 2021 memo not addressed in the defense bill applied the mandate to National Guard and Reserve troops.
  • “This is pretty egregious,” retired Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, chairman of Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services, told the DCNF.

The Army’s latest guidance on COVID-19 states that a provision in Congress’ defense bill overturning the service-wide vaccination mandate does not apply to orders given to the National Guard or Reserves, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act ordered the Department of Defense (DOD) to rescind the Aug. 24, 2021 memo ordering full COVID-19 vaccination for military servicemembers, including the Ready Reserve and National Guard. However, an update to the Army’s virus policy, dated Dec. 22, says the provision does not address a second memo from November applying the mandate to the National Guard and Reserves and preventing unvaccinated members mobilized under state, rather than federal, orders from being paid, the documents show.

The Department of Defense formally withdrew the COVID-19 vaccine mandate after President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Dec. 23, an official policy document shows.

“The FY 2023 NDAA does not address the Secretary of Defense’s directive regarding COVID-19 vaccination for members of the national guard and ready reserve (Annex AAAA),” according to FRAGO 35, an update to HQDA EXORD 225-21, which describes the Pentagon’s COVID-19 policy, that was obtained by the DCNF.

“Commands will continue to adhere to Annex AAAA and to paragraphs 3.D.21-3.D.23 unless and until Annex AAAA is superseded or rescinded by the Secretary of Defense,” the document stated.

Annex AAAA refers to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s Nov. 30, 2021 memo addressing continued resistance among National Guard troops to comply with the vaccine mandate.

The memo ordered National Guard troops to meet vaccination deadlines in order to participate in training, drills and other state duties under Title 32 and stripped funding for members who spurn the vaccine. It also instructed Army and Air Force leaders to create similar policies applying to Reserve forces.

However, the Army’s latest guidance appears at odds with official DOD statements to comply with the law.

“The Department is pausing all actions for all service members related to the COVID-19 mandate, to include separation,” DOD spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz said in a statement to the DCNF. He added that DOD is in the process of developing new policy in accordance with the 30-day implementation period.

A spokesperson for the Army confirmed that FRAGO 35 was issued to units on Thursday.

The updated order also directs the Army to cease issuing discharges “based solely on a soldier’s refusal to comply with the DOD COVID-19 vaccination order.”

“While the Department of Defense is developing further guidance, the Army is suspending the processing and initiation of involuntary separations based solely on a Soldier’s refusal to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley told the DCNF.

Paragraphs 3.D.21 to 3.D.23 are not written out in the document obtained by the DCNF, instead notated as “no change” from the version directly prior. However, a publicly available previous version of the order, FRAGO 13, shows the paragraphs as referring to vaccination requirements for the National Guard and Reserves and gives a July 1, 2022 deadline.

“Implementation of Annex AAAA will be executed no earlier than 1 July 2022. [Army National Guard] service members must be fully vaccinated immediately unless otherwise exempted,” the document stated in paragraph 3.D.21. A subsection of that paragraph extended the vaccination requirement to Reserve and National Guard members operating under both state and federal orders.

The DCNF was not able to determine what, if anything, in those paragraphs was amended prior to the issuance of FRAGO 35.

The NDAA instructs the DOD to rescind the COVID-19 mandate “pursuant to the memorandum dated August 24, 2021” but does not mention Austin’s follow-on instructions from November.

“I feel fairly certain that most of America, and certainly most of the congressmen I would think that supported that lifting of the mandate, thought it applied to the Guard,” retired Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, who serves as chairman of Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services and lobbied with Congress to have the mandate repealed, told the DCNF, referring to the Army’s guidance. “This is pretty egregious.”

Austin issued the November memo pulling funding from National Guard and Reserves after state leaders sought exemptions to the mandate, CNN reported. Earlier that month, Austin rejected Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request to make the vaccine optional for Oklahoma National Guard troops on the basis that a mandate would violate “the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans” and cripple the Guard’s ability to provide disaster relief operations ahead of expected winter storms.

Stitt had instructed Oklahoma National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino not to enforce the mandate, insisting to Austin that he called the shots while Guard troops operated under Title 32 orders.

Austin aimed to address “failure to maintain this military medical readiness requirement” in the November memo, referring to the vaccine mandate.

The National Guard has a 91% vaccination rate, with 5,440 troops refusing the vaccine, while Army Reserves has a 92% vaccination rate and 4,507 refusals, according to the latest Army data as of Dec. 15. The Army has granted 15 permanent exemptions to National Guard members and 24 to Reserve troops, but has not discharged those without exemptions.

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