In one of his first acts as the head of the Oklahoma National Guard, new Adjutant General Thomas Mancino updated the guard’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
In a memo issued Thursday, Mancino ordered that no members of the Oklahoma National Guard be required to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
The memo obtained by The Oklahoman also notes “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken” against guard members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
The memo came just one day after Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Mancino to replace former Adjutant General Michael Thompson, who had served in that role since 2017.
Thompson was a vocal proponent of COVID-19 vaccines.
Stitt’s sudden replacement of Thompson has raised questions about whether the former adjutant general was ousted because of his views on mandatory vaccines for members of the military. Most military branches require troops to receive numerous vaccinations to be eligible for service.
Stitt’s office has denied that Thompson was replaced due to his opinion on vaccine mandates, and said the change in command was in the works since October.
“The clarified policy on COVID vaccinations for Oklahoma Army and Air National Guardsmen reflects the governor’s ability to assert his command authority over the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard while they are within the state’s borders,” said Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, a spokesman for the guard.
“The clarification will allow our unvaccinated Guardsmen to continue to serve in Oklahoma without any negative repercussion, but it does not provide any protection should they need to attend any military school or training activity run by an active duty component or the Department of Defense.”
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said the change isn’t really a policy shift, but rather a clarification of the governor’s intent as commander in chief.
Hannema didn’t respond to a question about whether Stitt asked for the change.
The previous COVID-19 vaccine guidance issued by Thompson noted that because of an executive order from Stitt, the Oklahoma Military Department would not require state employees to be vaccinated or show proof of vaccination.
In an Oct. 22 executive order, Stitt wrote that his administration believes vaccines work and are effective, but should not be mandated by government entities.
Thompson’s guidance that touted the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and detailed the consequences guard members could face for refusing the shots had a markedly different tone from the memo Mancino issued Thursday.
“All personnel will be given the opportunity to receive the vaccine,” Thompson wrote. “Uniformed members and Title 5 federal civilian employees who elect not to receive the vaccine will be counseled regarding the consequences of not being vaccinated. These consequences will depend on the individual’s status.”
Repercussions could include being unable to mobilize or receive training at federal military installations, Thompson wrote.
In the Oct. 27 memo, Thompson wrote that COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing and reducing the severity of the COVID-19 virus.
“However, freedom is always the standard in Oklahoma,” Thompson wrote. “Deciding whether to be vaccinated is ultimately a personal choice that each of us must make. This personal decision regarding vaccination, like any other, will have consequences.”
The order issued Thursday by Mancino rescinded the previous guidance issued under his predecessor.
Last week, Stitt asked the federal government to suspend a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for members of the Oklahoma National Guard, saying about 800 soldiers, or 10% of the force, had not yet been vaccinated or don’t intend to get the shots.
In August, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said all military members must immediately begin to get COVID-19 vaccines.
In an Oct. 21 resignation letter provided by the governor’s office, Thompson acknowledged that he was resigning, effective Jan. 15, 2022, at Stitt’s request.
“I appreciate you allowing me to have this time to coordinate transition between now and January 15, 2022,” Thompson wrote. “I wish the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard all the best in the future.”
A Stitt spokesman previously said after the governor decided he wanted to promote Mancino from assistant adjutant general, it didn’t seem necessary to keep Thompson on into January.