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Pentagon chief says Guard who refuse vaccine cannot train

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has decided that National Guard members who refuse COVID-19 vaccination will be barred from federally funded drills and training required to maintain their Guard status.

Austin spelled out the policy in an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press. In the memo, he instructed leaders of the military services Tuesday to publish guidance by next week on dealing with Guard members who fail to meet military medical readiness requirements by refusing the vaccine.

“Vaccination is essential to the health and readiness of the force,” he wrote.

All members of the military are required to be vaccinated unless they obtain an official waiver for medical or other reasons.

The military services have set varying deadlines that apply to active and reserve forces. Members of the Air Guard must be vaccinated by December; Army Guard members have until June. Austin’s policy will affect Guard members only when the vaccination deadline set by their service has been reached.

Under federal law, members of the National Guard must assemble for drills and participate in training a specific number of days per year.

Austin said those Guard members who are not allowed to participate in drills due to their refusal to be vaccinated will not be paid by the Defense Department. And they will not receive credit that would count toward retirement and other federal benefits. Austin told the service leaders to implement that policy in coordination with the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon’s top personnel officer.

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