The Oklahoma governor ordering that no Oklahoma National Guardsmen are required to take the COVID-19 vaccination is a direct attack on national military readiness.
I make this statement as a retired Army National Guard major general and former Adjutant General (commander) of the 13,000 soldiers and airmen of the Illinois Army and Air National Guard. During my five years as Adjutant General we, like the Oklahoma National Guard, deployed soldiers and airmen to every combat zone on earth.
All Guardsmen (both men and women) take a dual oath of obligation. One oath as an Army or Air Force reservist and one as a member of the National Guard. The federal oath requires obedience to federal military command authorities as the state oath requires obedience to their respective states.
By directing that a federal military order not be complied with, the governor is placing Oklahoma Guardsmen in the position of refusing compliance with a lawful federal order.
The federal order to vaccinate is to ensure medical readiness in the event of a federal call-up. If called up, the Oklahoma Guardsmen will no longer be under the command of the Governor and must take the vaccination, just as they take literally dozens of other vaccinations in their military career. Due to the timeline of vaccine effectiveness, their readiness for mobilization will be delayed, a direct impact on military readiness.
With China’s increasing aggressiveness worldwide and Russian mobilization of troops on the Ukrainian border, as well as other crisis points globally, we need our military forces — active, Guard, and reserve — ready to respond quickly should they be needed.
The necessity of readiness for the National Guard has been well proven over the last 20 years with tens of thousands of Guardsmen deployed to combat.
The governor may wish to make a point of “control over one’s own body,” but that argument is negated by the simple fact that when one takes the enlistment oath to join the military, whether active, Guard or reserve, one surrenders that right. A military member goes where he or she is told, when they are told, with the equipment, uniforms and vaccinations they are provided.
Although the governor asserts Title 32 US Code, which governs the relationship of the federal and state governments and the National Guard, as his authority to issue his directive, he ignores the obligations that Guardsmen meet the same training, physical fitness, marksmanship and medical readiness requirements as active-duty soldiers and reservists. He further ignores that Title 32 pays for the National Guard with federal funds. Those soldiers you see at your local National Guard armory on the weekend are paid with Uncle Sam’s dollars, not the Oklahoma governor’s state dollars. During my tenure as adjutant general, state dollars generally provided less than 1 percent of the Illinois National Guard’s budget.
The only time state guardsmen are completely under a governor’s control is in the event of a state-declared emergency such as floods, tornadoes, or other man-made or natural disasters. Even in those instances should the disaster be declared a federal emergency, then federal funds and requirements come into play.
His action also risks damaging the reputation the National Guard has worked so hard to gain as a reliable and ready member of the nation’s military team.
The governor’s misguided political ploy weakens national security at a time when we can least afford it. Now is not the time to play political theater with vaccinations and the Oklahoma National Guard. Just as we need the protection of our military, our service members need the protection of vaccination.
William L. Enyart is a retired major general. His nearly 36-year military career included active-duty service in the US Air Force and nearly 30 years in the Army National Guard. He culminated his service as Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, commanding the more than 13,00 soldiers and airmen of the Illinois Air and Army National Guard from 2007 to 2012. He is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government US-Russia Relations program and the George Marshal Center for European Security counterterrorism program.
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