WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hasn't spoken to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt about the state's National Guard relaxing its COVID-19 vaccine policy.
New Oklahoma National Guard Adjutant General Thomas Mancino sent a memo last week about the change one day after the announcement Mancino would be replacing Gen. Michael Thompson.
“No negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine," Mancino said.
In a news conference Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Austin hadn't spoken to Stitt about Mancino's appointment, and that the Department of Defense had the authority to continue to enforce the vaccine mandate.
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) November 15, 2021
"It is a lawful order for National Guardsmen to receive the COVID vaccine," Kirby said. "Refusing to do to that, absent an approved exemption, puts them in the same potential as active-duty members who refuse the vaccine."
Stitt previously asked Austin to suspend vaccination requirements for guard members. Mancino's appointment came just before Veterans Day when Thompson was set to speak at an event in Oklahoma City.
Thompson said to media at the event that he found out about the appointment on Twitter, according to KOCO.
However, Thompson wouldn't say if he thought his replacement had to do with his enforcement of the vaccine mandate.
“The governor had been exploring making a change for a number of months, and (Gen.) Thompson had submitted his resignation,” effective in January, said Stitt spokesperson Carly Atchison.
“Once the governor selected (Gen.) Mancino as his replacement, the governor decided to move up the timeline.”
Mancino’s memo clarifies policy, Lt. Col. Geoff Legler told The Oklahoman, reflecting “the governor’s ability to assert his command authority over the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard while they are within the state’s borders,” not when they take part in activities operated by the U.S. Defense Department.
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