Army to Begin Forcing Out Soldiers Who Refuse COVID Vaccine, Including Guardsmen
New policy bars unvaccinated soldiers from re-enlistment, promotions as Oklahoma governor says National Guard need not obey Biden's vax mandate.
Updated at 5:05 p.m.
Soldiers who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine and have not requested an exemption will no longer be allowed to re-enlist or be promoted. That applies to active-duty troops as well as reservists and National Guardsmen, including those serving in states whose governors do not require the vaccine.
Under a policy announced in a Nov. 16 memo signed by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, troops’ service records will be flagged the day they make their final vaccine refusal, which follows a meeting with a medical professional and a second order to get vaccinated. This flag will bar them from being promoted, reenlisting, continuing to receive enlistment bonuses, attending service-related schools, or receiving tuition assistance.
“I authorize commanders to impose bars to continued service…for all soldiers who refuse the mandatory vaccine order without an approved exemption or pending exemption request,” Wormuth wrote in the memo. “The Soldier will remain flagged until they are fully vaccinated, receive an approved medical or administrative exemption, or are separated from the Army.”
The issue of vaccinating the force, including the hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the Army National Guard, has come to a head in recent days. Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt has rebuffed President Joe Biden’s directive that all federal employees, including troops in uniform, be vaccinated, and his state’s adjutant general has told Oklahoma National Guardsmen that they need not comply with the directive.
About 77 percent of the total Army—active duty, Reserve, and Guard—has received at least one shot, and 72 percent are completely vaccinated, according to the latest data provided by Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence Kelley. Many of the unvaccinated soldiers are in the National Guard or reserves. Only 51.84 percent of the Army National Guard is fully vaccinated; 60.72 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to data provided to Defense One by the National Guard. There are 329,709 Army National Guardsmen serving in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.
It has been unclear whether the Pentagon could force Guardsmen, who serve under both federal and state control, to be vaccinated if the governors they serve do not require a vaccine.
The new Army guidance asserts that no service member who refuses to get vaccinated or to procure an official exemption may continue to serve without limits in the Army, and thus in the National Guard.
Soldiers flagged for refusing the vaccine will be allowed to pursue separation from the military through disability evaluation, retirement, resignation, or separation after completion of service, the Army said.
This story has been updated with the latest Army numbers on vaccinations.