The Department of Defense (DOD) is presently facing significant pressure from numerous GOP governors, many of whom question the Pentagon’s COVID vaccine mandate for U.S. troops.
In the ongoing dispute, the main question is which entity has the ultimate authority over the U.S. National Guard. Under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, the National Guard is under the command of the governor, though if the National Guard is summoned for federal duty, the troops subsequently fall under the command of federal authority.
The first governor to vocalize concerns over the mandate for troops was Kevin Stitt, the Governor of Oklahoma. Stitt argued that he is the ultimate head of the National Guard for the state, which means that he has the ultimate authority over the troops. On December 2, the Oklahoma Governor subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of 16 Oklahoma Air National Guard members. However, a federal judge recently ruled in favor of the Department of Defense.
Nonetheless, six other Republican governors have followed the lead of Stitt. The Pentagon continues to maintain that its vaccine mandate is necessary and lawful for assuring the readiness of the U.S. military.
The governors who have openly spoken out against the mandate include Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.
On December 14, all of these governors, with the exception of Abbott, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that strongly encouraged him to reconsider the vaccine mandate. The governors noted that “requiring separation from each state National Guard if unvaccinated,” “setting punishment requirements for refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated,” and pursuing “directives dictating whether training in a Title 32 status can occur” all fall beyond “[Austin’s] constitutional and statutory authority.”
However, Austin has denied the request, declaring that the COVID vaccine mandate “stems directly from [his] responsibility as the Secretary of Defense to promote the health, safety, and readiness of our military personnel.”
Furthermore, Austin also wrote a separate memo in the past month, informing service members “who do not comply with the Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccination requirements” that they will not receive “payment for duties performed under Title 32.”
At this point in time, each service branch of the military has well over 90 percent of their respective active-duty forces vaccinated.