WASHINGTON, D.C. – Approximately 40,000 Army National Guardsmen and 22,000 Reservists have been officially suspended from duty as of Friday, according to the U.S. Army – effectively taking away their pay and health benefits – because they have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to a statement released on Military.com, an Army spokesperson reaffirmed the Pentagon’s previous decree that all active members of the U.S. military must be fully vaccinated or face punitive measures.
“Soldiers who refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands,” the spokesperson said.
The deadline for National Guard members to receive the jab was one week ago; Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had previously stated in November that National Guardsmen and Reservists who refused inoculation against COVID-19 would no longer be allowed to engage in their annual summer training exercises, in addition to having their pay withheld.
Ultimately, Austin said, if Guardsmen and Reservists continue to refuse vaccination in light of the aforementioned punishments, they could be discharged from the service completely; this stance was reiterated by the Army spokesperson who spoke to Military.com.
“In the future, Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an exemption may be subject to additional adverse administrative action, including separation,” the spokesperson said.
Some Guardsmen and Reservists have applied for medical or religious exemptions from the vaccine, although reports indicate that it’s rare that such exemptions are granted. However, Director of the Army Guard, Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, stated that he understands the hesitation on the part of some of his troops, but that the Army’s goal is to get their entire fighting force – including members of the National Guard – fully vaccinated.
“We’re going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career,” he said. “We’re not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed.”