Army Expects Guard Soldiers to Get the Vaccine by December If They're Going to Deploy

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A combat medic holds a dosage of COVID-19
Spc. James Alston, a combat medic assigned to the 1st Battalion, 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team, holds a dosage of COVID-19 vaccine at the Harrison County Health Department in Gulfport, Miss., Jan. 5, 2021. (U.S. National Guard photo by A. Danielle Thomas)

Army National Guard troops must get the COVID-19 vaccine by a December deadline, not the previously announced June 2022 date, if they will be mobilized on federal orders, according to a policy memo obtained by Military.com.

Any National Guard soldier mobilized on federal orders after Dec. 15 must be fully vaccinated, according to the memo dated Oct. 7. Previously, the only guidance given to Guard troops was that they had to be vaccinated by June 30, 2022, a deadline that was far later than any other issued by the military services.

By comparison, troops in the Air National Guard and Reserve must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 2. The Army National Guard's goal is to have at least 90% of the force vaccinated by April 2022, according to Army guidelines obtained by Military.com in September, months after the rest of the military's deadlines to have the full force vaccinated. More than 92% of the active-duty force has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Guardsmen can train and deploy on several different types of orders, ranging from state to federal activations. The Dec. 15 deadline will apply only to troops on federal Title 10 orders, usually reserved for Guardsmen deploying abroad or to the U.S.-Mexico border. This also can include some troops training at active-duty schools, such as basic training.

As of Friday morning, there were 15,820 Guard troops deployed overseas who will be affected by the earlier deadline, according to National Guard Bureau data. And any Guard unit deploying abroad after the Dec. 15 deadline will have to have a fully vaccinated force.

There are also some 3,000 troops deployed to the southern border on federal orders. However, there are more than 2,500 Guardsmen at the border and 12,140 on pandemic-related missions on state orders who won't be affected by the December deadline.

Like other military components, Guardsmen can seek an exemption to the vaccine, such as for religious reasons or medical concerns like adverse reactions to previous shots. But doing so may be an uphill climb if troops had not previously objected to the smorgasbord of other vaccines required to make them eligible for military service.

It is unclear how many Guard soldiers are fully vaccinated. In an interview with Military.com in July, Col. Jennifer Schmidt, deputy surgeon general of the National Guard Bureau's Joint Staff, said the data will not be publicly shared because units cannot accurately track who in the ranks is vaccinated.

Unlike active-duty units, which are largely vaccinated through the Army, some Guardsmen are getting the shots through civilian sources and the Department of Veterans Affairs, something National Guard units do not automatically track. Military.com obtained Guard vaccination data in July that showed 30% of the force is vaccinated. However, Guard officials said the data was not accurate, given the lack of accounting for all sources of shots received by troops.

In the meantime, states have the authority to order more aggressive vaccine deadlines than the federal government. Military.com was first to report that California issued the first vaccine mandate in the military in July, ordering its Guardsmen to be fully inoculated by August. USA Today on Wednesday reported that New York Guardsmen on pandemic-related missions must be fully vaccinated.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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