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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma National Guard leader has sent a warning to his guardsmen that failing to take the COVID vaccine per federal mandate could lead to “career ending federal action,” although Oklahoma’s governor said they do not have to get vaccinated.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been declaring for weeks that all National Guard members must get the COVID vaccine, but Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said he wouldn’t enforce the mandate.

The vaccine deadline for the Oklahoma Air Guard was December 2nd.  That same day, Stitt announced he was now suing the Biden Administration to stop the mandate, asserting his authority as commander-in-chief of the Oklahoma National Guard.

“I retain the authority for all training and governance of the Oklahoma National Guard,” Stitt said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that President Biden and his administration are choosing to play politics with military paychecks, especially amid the highest inflation rate in 30 years and so close to the holiday season. Threatening the pay of National Guard members is manifestly unlawful and unfair.”

This week, the U.S. Secretary of the Air Force put out a memo saying Air National Guard members who don’t get vaccinated will essentially be removed from federal service, except those who apply for and receive an exemption.

The exact language said, “the Secretary of the Air Force hereby withdraws consent for members not fully vaccinated to be placed on or to continue on previously issued Title 32 Active Guard and Reserve orders.” 

It also said that members that have not initiated a vaccination regimen by December 31 “may not participate in drills, training, or other duty.”

Oklahoma Adjutant General Brigadier General Thomas Mancino addressed his guardsmen Wednesday, saying “anyone exercising their personal responsibility and deciding not to take the vaccine, must realize that the potential for career ending federal action.” 

Mancino said for now, the governor has granted them “a limited safe harbor.” He also said, “It is a legal question as to how far [the governor’s] authority extends. That question will have to be answered in the courts or be addressed in Congress.”

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Democratic Party is vocalizing their disapproval, calling Governor Stitt’s leadership of the guardsmen reckless.

“I want them to continue to get paid,” said Chairwoman Alicia Andrews. “I want them to be able to maintain and grow their career and the governor, at no risk to himself, is actually risking their pay. He’s risking their career all for an ideological fight. I think it’s reckless and quite frankly careless for our Governor to risk the livelihood of Oklahoma citizens.”

KFOR reached out to Governor Stitt’s office for comment and they tell us the Governor is maintaining his stance that threatening the pay of unvaccinated national guardsmen is unlawful. His federal lawsuit remains intact.