National Guard COVID vaccine mandate creating ‘dilemmas’ in Iowa troops

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Major General Ben Corell gave the 2022 Condition of the Guard speech Jan. 13, 2022 at the State Capitol. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
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By Katie Akin, IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH

The Department of Defense COVID-19 mandate is creating “dilemmas” for the Iowa National Guard, Maj. Gen. Ben Corell told the Legislature on Thursday.

“Let me be clear: Federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates will no doubt impact our organization,” Corell, adjutant general, said in his annual Condition of the Guard address. “These mandates have already started to create dilemmas within our ranks, where members must decide either to get vaccinated, or to be forced to leave military service.”

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The Department of Defense mandated the COVID-19 vaccine in August for all members of the Armed Forces, including the part-time National Guard.

“In general, by not taking the vaccine, therefore not meeting a mandatory readiness requirement, an individual in the National Guard could put in jeopardy their ability to continue to serve in the National Guard,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters in November.

Gov. Kim Reynolds in December joined four other governors in a letter, requesting the Department of Defense withdraw its COVID vaccine mandate for National Guard members who are in Title 32 status – under control of the state, not the federal government.

“It’s unconscionable to think the government will go so far as to strip these honorable men and women of the nation’s top duties if they don’t comply,” Reynolds said in a statement. “They protect the very freedoms that the federal government apparently doesn’t believe they too deserve.”

Reynolds did not attend Corell’s speech on Thursday. She canceled her public appearances for Thursday and Friday due to not feeling well. Reynolds tested negative for COVID-19, according to a news release from her office.

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Corell did not request any specific policy from Iowa lawmakers to address the vaccine mandate. Republican leaders have said they intend to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate before passing new state laws.

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Corell was the subject of a vaccination campaign in April 2021, when he spoke publicly about his experience being hospitalized with the virus.

“For those of you who have not yet been vaccinated, I implore you to take the time to get it scheduled, ” Corell said at a news conference with Reynolds. “For those of you sitting on the fence, wondering about getting vaccinated: do it. It’s the right thing to do.”

Overall, Corell reported the Army National Guard was at 102% of its authorized strength in 2021, and 81% of eligible soldiers deciding to re-enlist. The Air National Guard was at 101% of authorized strength, with 93% of soldiers re-enlisting.

“Recruiting and retention is a critical task for us,” Corell said. “When our ranks are full, we maintain the flexibility to perform all of our state and federal missions when we are called upon.”

Corell listed the Iowa National Guard’s deployments from the past year to Qatar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Kosovo. He praised the Iowa National Guard’s partnership with the Kosovo Security Forces.

The partnership deployed to Kuwait, and Corell said the mission built “trust and interoperability for additional opportunities for Kosovo to be a security partner.”

Corell also thanked the Legislature for helping fund local projects, like the West Des Moines Armory, and he promoted a plan to create a car accident response training center at Camp Dodge.

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