By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The Secretary of Defense told Gov. Mark Gordon in a letter sent late last week that regardless of any objections at the state level, Wyoming Air and Army National Guard members must be vaccinated against COVID.
Last month, Gordon and several other Republican governors sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, in which they argued that Austin has no authority to discipline members of the National Guard serving in a state capacity.
Austin responded in a letter dated Jan. 27, telling Gordon that he considered the thousands of COVID-related hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths among service members, civilians and their families when making the mandate.
“COVID-19 takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements,” Austin said in the letter to Gordon.
“To ensure that we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Wyoming National Guard,” he said.
Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the governor’s position follows the constitutional premise that the commander-in-chief of a state’s National Guard is the governor of the state.
“Therefore, he maintains command and control over this important force, not the Department of Defense unless activated by the President,” Pearlman said.
“Secretary of Defense Austin’s response to the governors’ concerns fails to consider and address this important constitutional and legal issue. The governor intends to continue to dialog with the federal authorities to attempt to resolve this critical national issue,” he said.
Last month, Gordon said the federal government does not have command or control of National Guard units.
“The Wyoming National Guard is under my command and control,” Gordon said in mid-December. “These directives are an overreach of the federal government’s authority.”
In the letter to Austin, the governors noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed “that the National Guard is under the command and control of the Governor of each state unless those members are called to active service …”
Austin told Gordon that the concerns raised in the letter did not negate the need for vaccines.
Under the vaccine mandate of the administration of President Joe Biden, National Guard members were given until Dec. 2 to get the vaccine, obtain an exemption from the requirement or be removed from service.
Austin sent identical letters to the other governors who sent the one in December, including Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.