The Pentagon has increased the stakes in the dispute now brewing between Washington and the Oklahoma National Guard. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently issued a memo ordering all National Guard personnel nationwide to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and all Department of Defense personnel.
Republican Governor Kevin Stitt has taken a strong stance against overreach by the federal government in attempting to compel vaccination. He relieved the Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard, who said he would consent to Austin rather than follow his legal chain of command.
On Wednesday, it was then reported that the Defense Department stated Oklahoma would not be maintaining medical readiness if it did not comply with the mandate. As a result, the state would lose its National Guard and be left with only a state militia. An unnamed official’s weakness in passing down this threat indicates how shaky the Pentagon’s stance against the National Guard is.
Then the New York Times reported later that day that failure to obey the mandate could “jeopardize the status” of Oklahoma Guardsmen. The reporting added that the Pentagon believes that the Oklahoma governor has no legal power to override the mandate.
Some legal experts on the law regarding the National Guard have disagreed. It is claimed that unless a state’s National Guard is activated for a mission by the president according to federal law, the guard remains under the exclusive command of the state’s governor. Accordingly, Guard members are not subject to federal authority or mandate without first being activated.
The Pentagon could deny funding to the Oklahoma Guard or any other state units that refuse the mandate. Additionally, the Defense Department could seek to dismiss non-compliant personnel outright.
The Pentagon appears concerned that other states may follow the lead of Oklahoma in rejecting the mandate for Guardsmen. Of course, lawsuits could also be filed to sort out the legal priority of orders between state and federal officials. The stakes involved in an uncertain standoff would lead one to believe that the matter is headed for federal court in short order unless one side unexpectedly backs down.