Alaska National Guard members must be vaccinated, defense secretary tells Gov. Dunleavy

All Alaska National Guard members must be vaccinated against COVID-19, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin affirmed in a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The Pentagon has mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve. Those who refuse to be vaccinated can be discharged or reprimanded.

Dunleavy, along with the governors of Wyoming, Iowa, Mississippi and Nebraska, sent a letter to Austin in December asking him to withdraw the vaccine requirement for members of the National Guard.

The governors wrote that it was beyond the Department of Defense’s constitutional authority to set punishment requirements for those refusing to be vaccinated.

In Austin’s response, dated Jan. 27, he wrote that all members of the Alaska Army and Air National Guard, regardless of duty status, “must follow the directions of the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force” regarding the vaccine requirements.

[Army to immediately start discharging vaccine refusers]

A spokesperson for Dunleavy said Wednesday that the governor had not yet received the letter from Austin.

In an interview with Fox News, Dunleavy said Tuesday “we have to move on” from coronavirus restrictions.

Austin wrote that he “cannot comment further on the substance of (Dunleavy’s) concerns” in light of a pending lawsuit.

Last month, Dunleavy joined a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an effort to block the U.S. Department of Defense from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all National Guard members under state command.

Attorneys for the two states say that when National Guard members are serving the state, the federal government has no command authority.

Austin wrote in his letter that the decision to make vaccinations mandatory for all service members was done in consideration of “the thousands of hospitalizations and the hundreds of deaths among Service members, civilians, and their families related to COVID-19.”

The Alaska Air National Guard’s deadline for complying with the vaccine requirement was Dec. 2, 2021.

“A significant majority” of unvaccinated members of the Air National Guard have applied for exemptions on medical, religious or administrative grounds, according to Alaska National Guard director of communications Candis Olmstead.

Olmstead said that the process for discipline and adjudication for noncompliant members is underway, but “at this time, nothing has been finalized.”

Members of the Alaska Army National Guard have until June 30, 2022, to be fully vaccinated, or apply for an exemption. Full vaccination status does not necessitate getting a booster shot.

No Alaska Guardsmen have died from COVID-19, Olmstead said. A very small number have required hospitalization for the virus. COVID-19 cases “have not had an adverse effect on the Alaska National Guard’s operational readiness,” Olmstead said.

The majority of Guard members train one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror.