Thousands of Air Guard members miss vaccine deadline

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of Air National Guard members missed the deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19 – an order that has divided some veterans in Austin.

“As far as making it mandatory right now, that’s ridiculous,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8787 Commander Marvin Buck. “I don’t trust the data.”

Buck served in the Marines during Desert Storm to “serve my country and be able to feel good about myself.” His father was also a Marine. While he isn’t “anti-vax,” speaking only for himself, he expressed concerns and doubts about the vaccines, which have been proven safe and effective. Buck, 54, is not vaccinated and says today’s soldiers should be allowed to make that decision for themselves, even though he was required to be vaccinated against diseases when he was in the military.

“Let’s slow down a little bit and make sure everything’s OK with this vaccine,” he said.

While Buck worries about what will happen with a diminished Armed Forces, Mark Hewson, also a Marine, worries what will happen if the mandate wasn’t in place.

“If you’re not healthy,” said Hewson. “You’re no good to the military.”

Hewson says he was almost killed in Beruit.

“You lost a lot of friends?” asked KXAN reporter Matt Grant.

“Two hundred and 48 of them,” he said, tearing up.

He worries about losing more to an invisible enemy.

“They’re gonna be in close proximity so it’s gonna rapid spread,” he said. “And once that starts happening, your medical people can’t keep up with it. The unit is virtually useless.”

“You can’t fight if you don’t have anybody to fight,” he added.

Air Guard Deadline Passes

The deadline for the Air National Guard and Reserve came and went on Dec. 2, with 6.3% of members not complying with the order to be vaccinated.

In August, the Department of Defense mandated all service members get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to maintain a “healthy and ready force” and “save lives.”

Out of roughly 107,000 Air National Guard members:

  • 8,573 remain unvaccinated.
  • 4,782 have not started the vaccination process.
  • 3,233 have refused.
  • 10,558 have requested a religious exemption.

So far, no religious exemptions have been granted.

“Thank you to each total force Airman who has met the responsibility to get vaccinated,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall in a statement. “To those yet to get vaccinated, the order is clear — take action now or be held accountable for failing to do so. This is about being ready to defend the nation, as well as protecting ourselves, our teammates, and our loved ones.”

Guard members who refuse to be vaccinated will be barred from attending required training and won’t be paid. Their federal and retirement benefits can also be impacted.

Army National Guard members have until June 2022 to get vaccinated.

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