The defense secretary ordered all National Guard troops to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the Colorado National Guard, which repeatedly has been called to assist the state’s health care system during the pandemic, will not disclose how many of its troops have complied.
A Nov. 30 memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said those who do not follow the order will lose pay and would not be allowed to participate in weekend drills and other assignments. But Austin left it up to the National Guard Bureau chief and secretaries of the Army and Air Force to determine how to discipline those who do not comply.
Elena O’Bryan, a spokeswoman for the Colorado National Guard, would not say whether any of the state’s 3,800 soldiers or 1,700 airmen had been disciplined for refusing to get the vaccine.
In some states, governors are pushing against the Defense Department’s requirement for vaccines. Oklahoma, Wyoming, Iowa, Alaska, Nebraska and Mississippi sent a joint letter to Austin asking that he rescind his order that bars guard troops from attending drill weekends and other mandatory training while under the authority of their states.
Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis, said in a statement, “Members of Colorado’s National Guard have stepped up to help our state respond to the challenges of the pandemic from setting up and running testing sites, to the historic distribution of the safe and effective vaccine, and volunteering their time away from their families. The governor has encouraged everyone including members of our National Guard to receive the safe and doctor approved vaccine and to get a third dose.”
During the pandemic, Colorado’s National Guard troops have operated mass testing and vaccination sites and again are on standby if needed to run COVID-19 testing sites or to deliver supplies to hospitals as the omicron variant rapidly spreads.
In December 2020, a pair of Colorado National Guard members tested positive for what later was named the alpha variant of COVID-19 after they were sent to Elbert County to assist with staffing at a nursing home during an outbreak. They were the first cases of the new variant in the United States.
At the national level, 68.64% of National Guard troops were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 13 with 74.2% of receiving one dose, according to data provided by the National Guard Bureau. Approximately 440,000 people serve in the National Guard across the United States. The Air National Guard is doing better than its Army Guard counterpart with 91.2% of airmen fully vaccinated compared with 61.4% of Guard soldiers, according to the data.
While the National Guard Bureau will release vaccination data on a federal level, it is up to state commanders to report publicly how many of their troops have received shots, said Wayne Hall, a spokesman at the National Guard Bureau.
But O’Bryan said it was a matter of operational security and the numbers would not be released.
“Every soldier has to be ready to do the mission,” O’Bryan said. “If they don’t get the vaccine, then they’re not ready to do the mission.”
Unless they are called to support a national military mission, National Guard troops fall under the command of their state’s adjutant general and governor, but the Secretary of Defense still has authority over the members, including the ability to order them to get vaccinated.
The Air Force placed a Dec. 2 deadline for Guard troops to get vaccinated. Active duty airmen were to be vaccinated as of Nov. 2, and earlier this month the Air Force announced it dismissed 27 members for refusing the shot. Army officials said more than 3,800 soldiers refused to be vaccinated by its Dec. 15 deadline, and they could be kicked out of the military next month, the Associated Press reported.
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