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Pentagon isn't giving Oklahoma Guard a choice on vaccine policy

The new head of the Oklahoma National Guard effectively decided to go rogue on the Pentagon's vaccine policy. No good can come of this.

Up until last week, Maj. Gen. Mike Thompson was serving as an uncontroversial adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard. He then got a phone call from Kevin Stitt, the state's Republican governor, who told the major general that he was fired.

Thompson spoke to Tulsa Public Radio a day later and said he wasn't given a reason for his dismissal.

It wasn't long, however, before an explanation came into focus.

On the heels of Thompson's ouster, the GOP governor tapped Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino as the new adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, and on Mancino's first day — before he was even confirmed by the state Senate — the brigadier general announced that he intends to ignore the Defense Department's Covid-19 vaccine requirement for all troops.

In effect, the new head of the Oklahoma National Guard effectively decided to go rogue: Mancino understood the Pentagon's policy, but he said he intended to ignore it, unlike his predecessor who backed Covid protections for Guard troops. (By some accounts, Mancino acted at Stitt's behest.)

Putting aside obvious questions about why the brigadier general would oppose mandatory vaccine protections for guardsmen and women during a pandemic, there's also an obvious chain-of-command problem: In the military, officers don't get to ignore lawful orders — especially those that protect troops from harm.

As Rachel noted on the show, it was a point the Defense Department seemed eager to emphasize yesterday. Politico reported:

The Pentagon's top spokesperson on Monday insisted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had the authority to require National Guard members to get vaccinated against Covid-19, despite new resistance from Oklahoma's highest-ranking military official. "It is a lawful order for National Guardsmen to receive the Covid vaccine. It is a lawful order," Defense Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a news briefing.

Kirby added, "Refusing to do that, absent an approved exemption, puts them in the same potential [for disciplinary action] as active-duty members who refuse the vaccine."

In case anyone needs a refresher, it was in August when Secretary Austin announced that all U.S. military members will be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine. It was in keeping with American traditions, and it was entirely consistent with existing military policy: Depending on where servicemembers may be deployed, troops are already required to receive up to 17 different vaccinations.

In a message to servicemembers, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted at the time that the "health and readiness of our force is critical to America's defense." The Army general added, "Mandating vaccines in the military is not new."

What is new is the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard deciding he doesn't want to follow the Pentagon's policy.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, Mancino and Stitt will back off their defiance of U.S. policy, Guard troops in Oklahoma will be protected, and there won't be copycats in other states. But if Mancino continues to refuse, the Defense Department apparently intends to treat him like any other soldier who defies lawful orders.