National Guard Leader Says Unvaccinated Troops Excited to Drill Again After Mandate Reversal

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The top enlisted leader for the National Guard said unvaccinated troops are excited about the opportunity to come back and drill, after Republicans forced the Biden administration to drop its vaccine mandate.

During a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday, the National Guard Bureau’s Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead told reporters it was too soon to tell what the effect of the mandate reversal was, but said, “the excitement about the opportunity to come back and serve is high.”

“And so we’re hoping that we see some great numbers from that but it’s a matter of waiting to see,” he said at the briefing.

He said leaders are also excited to get their troops back training, asking, “How soon can we do this?” and “How soon can we get them back into the formation?”

Whitehead said it was “exciting for us to hear, which means they’re staying connected with those soldiers and those airmen that had to make that tough decision.”

The Biden administration on August 24, 2021, ordered troops to be fully-vaccinated or face discharge from the military. More than 8,400 troops were involuntarily discharged from the military and National Guard troops who did not comply were banned from drilling or receiving pay.

An estimated 60,000 Army National Guard members and reservists refused to take the vaccine, which National Guard leaders expressed concern about, since their forces are often called upon for state and federal natural disaster missions. Military recruiters had also expressed concern that the mandate was affecting recruiting.

Republicans forced the Biden administration to rescind the mandate using the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, a yearly bill where Congress authorizes the Department of Defense’s activities and policies.

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said at the briefing it was still a “little bit too early” to tell if the mandate reversal would help recruitment, but said when the mandate was rescinded, “I sent a note out as quickly as I could to all the 54 [National Guard adjutant generals] to send a note out to their soldiers and airmen who are not fully vaccinated to return to drill.”

“That first drill is coming up in February. I think we’ll get a much better picture there,” he said.

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