Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin introduced a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for National Guard troops late last year, with a deadline of June 30, 2022 for troops to receive both CDC-mandated vaccinations — or risk, paid for and to be trained
House Republicans on Wednesday sent Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin a letter urging him to lift the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which they say has kept about 45,000 National Guardsmen inactive since late June.
The memo, obtained exclusively by , was authored by Florida Rep. Michael Waltz – a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the first Green Beret elected to Congress.
It was signed by more than a dozen of his peers, including GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik and Republican Study Committee Chair Rep. Jim Banks.
They are urging Austin to immediately rescind the vaccination mandate in light of military-wide staffing shortages and the alarmingly rapid advances in militaries of rival nations like China.
“All of this is happening against a backdrop of a recruitment and retention crisis not seen in the military services for decades,” the letter warns.
National Guard troops who have not received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by June 30, 2022 are threatened with, or actively excluded from, government-funded deployments and will receive payment under the Pentagon’s late-2021 immunization regulation. They are also prohibited from participating in training exercises attended by vaccinated military personnel.
That affects about 10 percent of the force, who are either unvaccinated or awaiting approval for exceptions.
“Our military has been crippled by the restrictive COVID-19 policies implemented by the Department of Defense under the Biden administration,” Waltz told .
Waltz, himself a National Guardsman, warned the military would lose “hundreds of highly skilled, specialized and skilled active duty Soldiers that our nation has invested millions in training unless that mandate is lifted.”
“Why would the Department of Defense continue to pursue policies that reduce military recruitment, retention and readiness at a time when our adversaries, including China, are rapidly expanding and modernizing their armed forces?” he added.
The letter is being led by Rep. Michael Waltz, the first Green Beret elected to Congress and himself a National Guardsman
More than a dozen other House Republicans signed the message to Austin, including House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (left) and Republican Studies Committee Chair Rep. Jim Banks (right).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this month that focuses largely on individual choices and smooths out differences in rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans.
The CDC lifted its quarantine requirement for people exposed to the virus and refrained from testing people without symptoms to “minimise the individual and societal health impact of COVID-19 by focusing on sustainable actions.” .
Citing this, House Republicans asked Austin, “Why not also lighten the load on our already stalled military recruiting and retention efforts by considering this new data, as the CDC has done in its new guidance, and the DoD’s COVID-19 Revise Vaccination Order?’
“The Department of Defense should follow CDC’s lead in stopping discrimination between vaccinated and unvaccinated service members after science has shown that there is no difference in health recommendations between the two groups,” the letter said.
Lawmakers claim the mandate is ineffective against the coronavirus, citing “millions of dollars and years on training” spent by specialized troops now forced into inactivity.
“Approximately 45,000 National Guardsmen are unable to attend critical training in support of their federal missions because of a immunization mandate that does not slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” the letter said.
obtained an exclusive copy of the letter, which cites the CDC’s updated COVID-19 guidance and the growing prevalence of natural immunity, to urge Austin to drop the rule
“Lawable orders must be obeyed by our service members, but it is also the duty of military officers and their designated Department of Defense officials to carefully review any voided standing orders as facts on the ground change.”
On a more focused scale, Waltz asked Austin to consider whether “military specialties or occupations” could be exempted from the vaccination mandate and whether the Pentagon had considered the long-term impact the mandate would have on current recruitment issues.
The letter from Republican representatives also targets the definition of “fully vaccinated” — grilling Austin on whether it will change based on updated guidance on booster shots and whether to consider natural immunity to recovery or treatment from COVID-19 could become.
The letter follows a similar effort in July led by Waltz and Rep. Mike Gallagher that urged Austin to drop the mandate.
But the Pentagon chief reiterated his support for it earlier this year in letters to seven GOP governors who are taking legal action against the policy.
“To ensure we maintain a healthy and operational military force capable of fulfilling our mission to defend this nation and protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is essential to military preparedness,” wrote Austin.
That was months before the start of the vaccination period.
reached out to the Pentagon for comment on Wednesday.