Oregon National Guard bars unvaccinated soldiers from duties
The Oregon National Guard is barring members who have not followed orders to be vaccinated against COVID-19 from taking part in military duties, officials confirmed Thursday.
The action could lead to termination or delays in pay and some benefits, according to a U.S. Department of Defense announcement. Continued refusal could lead to separation from the military altogether.
"This is a lawful order and is in line with other required vaccinations for readiness of the force," said Lt. Col. Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the Oregon National Guard. "As with other mandatory vaccinations, legitimate medical and religious exemptions will be acknowledged with respect, compassion and dignity."
The Department of Defense issued an order in August 2021 that all military personnel be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Army said the announcement this week would affect about 62,000 service members out of a total force of over 1 million soldiers.
About 97% of the 8,000 members of the Oregon National Guard have complied with the order by getting vaccinated, starting the vaccination process, or going through the administrative approvals to get exemptions or accommodations, Bomar said.
The Oregon National Guard declined to provide an exact number of members not in compliance or seeking waivers, citing privacy and appeals processes.
If 97% of the Oregon National Guard is in compliance, that would leave 3%, or about 240 members.
Bomar said decisions on exemptions are scheduled to be completed by October 1.
"No adverse actions will take place against Guard members with pending or approved exemption requests," Bomar said.
If a service member's permanent medical exemption or religious accommodation request is denied they have the right to appeal that decision within 30 days.
If the appeal is unsuccessful, the service member has the option of being vaccinated or being considered to have refused the order to be vaccinated.
"The specific number of days from receiving a final denial to being considered to have refused the vaccine is scheduled to come out in a future order," Bomar said.
Summer is the time when many National Guard units go through their mandatory two-week training, often working with active-duty personnel. Ahead of those assignments, the U.S. Army announced plans to enforce vaccination deadlines that had been previously announced.
"Members of the Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve who have refused the lawful Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption may not participate in federally funded drills and training and will not receive pay or retirement credit," according to the Army statement on Thursday.
The order has the biggest impact on the Army, which accounts for just under half of all uniformed personnel and 75% of all National Guard members.
The overwhelming majority of servicemembers have complied with the order. The Army has just over 1 million soldiers in service, with 480,000 on active duty. There are 336,000 National Guard members and 189,500 U.S. Army reservists.
"Maintaining readiness continues to be among the U.S. Army's highest priorities." said a statement from the U.S. Army command at the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. "We are fully committed to ensuring all soldiers are vaccinated against COVID-19."
The Pentagon said 40,000 National Guard members and 22,000 reservists were not yet in compliance with the order.
Since the pandemic spread to the United States in early 2020, the U.S. Defense Department has worried about the impact of the virus on military readiness around the globe. Non-uniformed personnel were moved off-base at many installations. Troops went through quarantine periods before and after deployments overseas.
Initially, the military reported high-profile outbreaks, particularly in the contained spaces of Navy ships at sea. An outbreak in 2020 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt infected over 1,000 sailors, about a quarter of the crew. One sailor died and the ship was quarantined for two months in Guam, with readiness maintained by the crew rotating between the land base and ship.
Overall, the Pentagon credits the policies as successful at maintaining military capabilities even as the 2.5-year-old pandemic has sickened 552.8 million people around the world, killing 6.35 million, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. In the U.S., more than 88.2 million infections have been reported and over 1 million people have died.
Once vaccines became available in late 2020, the Pentagon put an early priority on ensuring the inoculation of active-duty forces. Vaccination was required of uniformed personnel under an order issued in August 2021. Effective July 1 of this year, the Pentagon said National Guard and reservists would not be allowed to drill or deploy with their units if unvaccinated.
Following the Department of Defense order last August, much of the focus has been on compliance with activity duty units.
The Army said that as of June 21, it had discharged or accepted the retirements of 1,037 soldiers for "refusing the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine."
About the National Guard
National Guard members are civilians who serve part-time in the U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force.
The National Guard is a part of the U.S. military that traces its roots back to the colonial militias in 1636. It is one of three components of the American armed forces, along with the regular active duty service members and reservists.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are 2.14 million uniformed personnel serving in the four Department of Defense branches: Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Full-time active duty personnel accounts for 1.4 million service members. They are supplemented by a "selected reserve" of 800,800 part-time uniformed personnel — 357,100 reservists in each branch, and 443,700 National Guard members who serve with the Army and Air Force.
Reservists in the U.S. military are civilians who have a minimum commitment to training each year. They can only be called to active duty by the President.
The mission of the National Guard is unique in that its "citizen-soldiers" can be called to duty in two ways:
A state governor can mobilize National Guard units to aid in natural disasters, suppress unlawful activity such as riots, or support efforts such as the recent support staffing of Oregon hospitals overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis.
The National Guard can also be activated by the President to serve in wars, support allies, or be used in limited domestic incidents. National Guard units have served in every major U.S. war and conflict. An Oregon National Guard unit is currently serving in Poland as part of efforts to keep the Russian invasion of Ukraine from affecting NATO allies.
In contrast to the National Guard, members of the armed forces reserves can only be called to duty by the President.
National Guard members enlist for a total commitment of eight years, though serving with a unit that has a training commitment can be as short as three years. They receive pay, job training, college assistance, and benefits and are eligible for pensions. The U.S. Army is currently paying $20,000 bonuses for enlistees who sign up for service in the infantry, and select specialties in artillery, armor, engineering, fire support, engineering, motor transport, and petroleum supply.
National Guard recruits go through basic training, just as regular military enlistees. They also receive the same additional training in one of over 150 "military occupational specialties" ranging from infantry to support roles.
The National Guard members are assigned to units within their state and close to their communities. They must drill with their unit one weekend a month and also train for two weeks each year.
Units can be mobilized for either state or federal purposes. A state emergency mobilization usually lasts no more than two months, though there are exceptions. The federal mobilization usually has a minimum period of one year, and can include service in combat zones.
Once their core commitment of as few as three years is satisfied, members can go into the Individual Ready Reserve, in which they no longer drill, but can be called to duty if necessary during the remainder of their eight-year commitment.
U.S. Armed Forces by the numbers
Total force: 1 million
Active duty: 480,000
National Guard: 336,000
Total force: 510,000
Active duty: 332,800
National Guard: 107,700
Total force: 399,500
Active duty: 340,500
Total force: 224,700
Active duty: 186,200
Source: US Department of Defense manpower report, FY2020
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