Montana Guard Summons Unvaccinated Soldiers as Vaccine Deadline Nears

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Moderna COVID -19 vaccine administered Montana National Guard.
Capt. Kaleigh Koeppen wipes the arm of Brig. Gen. Buell Dickson, the Montana National Guard Assistant Adjutant General - Air, after administering his first dose of the Moderna COVID -19 vaccine at the Fort Harrison Medical Detachment Jan. 5, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Michael Touchette)

Facing a June 30 deadline for members to get mandated COVID-19 vaccines, the Montana Army National Guard has scheduled a June 5 symposium for those who have not yet been vaccinated nor started the process to request a religious or medical waiver.

As of Thursday, the Montana Guard reported that 93.2% of soldiers are fully or partially vaccinated, 4.5% are seeking either religious or medical exemptions, and 2.4% had neither reported receiving the vaccine nor started the exemption process.

Although an Operation Order circulated by the Montana Guard on Monday says the soldiers attending the June 5 event at Fort Harrison would either need to be vaccinated or complete their discharge paperwork at that time, officials said that information was inaccurate and has been withdrawn.

"In fact, the Montana Army National Guard is awaiting implementation guidance from the National Guard Bureau on the administrative next steps for those who have not completed vaccination by the deadline. These key details include what level of discharge they may receive," the Montana Guard said in a statement released by State Public Affairs Officer Major Ryan Finnegan. "The latest and most accurate information will be provided to the group on June 5, along with an opportunity to receive a vaccine dose before they leave for the day."

Finnegan said both the original Operation Order and an updated order are categorized as Controlled Unclassified Information, meaning the documents are not classified but he is not allowed to distribute them outside of the government. The June 5 event is only open to affected soldiers and their spouses, he said.

The U.S. Department of Defense has mandated that all service members must be vaccinated against COVID-19, except those who receive an approved exemption.

According to the Military Health System, the deadline to be fully vaccinated was set for Nov. 2, 2021 for active duty airmen in the Air Force and Dec. 2, 2021 for reserves and the Air National Guard, Nov. 28, 2021 for the Navy, Dec. 15, 2021 for the Army, and June 30, 2022 for the Army National Guard.

Service members are deemed fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the second dose of Pfizer's or Moderna's two-shot vaccine or 14 days after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

More than 3,400 troops have been involuntarily separated from service for refusing the vaccine, the Military Times reported April 27. The report says about 70% of them received general discharges and the rest received honorable discharges, which secures their veterans benefits and in many cases allows them to rejoin the military if they decide to get vaccinated.

(c)2022 the Independent Record (Helena, Mont.)

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