Individual medical and religious rights of Texas’ soldiers remain under fire from the federal government. Two options have been presented as possible responses Texas can take to protect her soldiers.

Also, there are signs President Biden’s mandate is affecting more than the Texas National Guard (TNG).

The Problem
As previously reported, despite citing her First Amendment religious rights, enlistee Crystal Demaret was threatened with expulsion from the TNG by President Joe Biden’s military vaccine mandate.

She is not alone. Ammon Blair says he was kicked out for refusing to be vaccinated, while, like Demaret, Sgt. Daniel Peters is stuck in a holding pattern to see if he too will be thrown out.

But how widespread is this threat?

In January, Texas Scorecard sent an open records request to the Texas Military Department (TMD), asking how many vaccine exemptions had been filed by soldiers assigned to Operation Lone Star. OLS is the border security operation Gov. Greg Abbott started last year after citizen outcry for sustained illegal border crossings into Texas from Mexico.

In February, TMD appealed our request to Attorney General Ken Paxton. In May, he ordered they release the information and did not consider their request for him to reconsider. Weeks ago, after agreeing to redactions of personal identification information, we received 12 pages of exemptions filed.

These records show the soldiers serve in multiple different areas, such as the 36th Infantry Division and the Texas Army National Guard 71st Troop Command. Both full-time and part-time soldiers (active guard reserve and non-active guard reserve) applied. Multiple medics in the service also applied.

The Texas Military Department told us those assigned to Operation Lone Star are on state active duty, which is on the state taxpayers’ dime, not federal. Therefore, TMD said these soldiers will not be affected by Biden’s military vaccine mandate. For whatever reason, these OLS soldiers seemed to feel they had to file for the exemption.

Again, this only gives us a snapshot of the situation. Not everyone in Texas’ Armed Forces is deployed to Operation Lone Star. What remains to be known is how widespread the mandate’s effect is on the Texas Military Department.

Back in January, former Maj. Gen. Charles Aris of the 36th Infantry Division said approximately 8,000 were at risk from being expelled. Aris was sacked along with Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the state’s top military commander, after multiple outcries for the mishandling of Operation Lone Star.

On June 28, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R–LA) stated that 13 percent of the National Guard, 10 percent of the reserve, and at least 24,250 active soldiers faced “expulsion for not receiving the mandatory COVID vaccine.” He added that in some states, roughly 25 percent of National Guardsmen were unvaccinated at the time.

The U.S. military is also reportedly having serious recruitment issues. On September 21, it was widely reported that the Army will fall short of its goal by 30,000 soldiers, while the Army and Air National Guards will miss theirs by 9,000 collectively. Buried beneath the article’s attempt to blame the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the controversial anti-life Roe v. Wade as a cause was the number of unvaccinated Army National Guard expected to be expelled next year: 9,000.

This has been an ongoing concern for some time, and happening simultaneously as tensions between America and the Communist Oligarchy of China continue to rise.

In June, Army Times reported up to 40,000 National Guardsmen were unvaccinated, and at least 14,000 refused to do so and risked being thrown out. Fox News Digital reported on July 8 that around 57,000 members of the National Guard and Army Reserve will have their pay cut off, simply for not complying with the Biden mandate.

Texas Scorecard asked the National Guard, and the Texas Military Department (TMD), how many of these tens of thousands Fox News Digital reported were members of the Texas National Guard, and how many religious and medical exemption requests were denied.

“State-specific data should come from the state,” replied Kurt M. Rauschenberg of National Guard Bureau Public Affairs in July.

“The approximate number of Soldiers in the Texas Army National Guard is 17,300 and the number of Airmen in the Texas Air Guard is approximately 3,300,” replied the TMD Public Affairs Office on July 11. “As of July 5, 2022, the Texas Army National Guard is 86 percent vaccinated and the Texas Air National Guard is 92 percent vaccinated. The TMD has submitted 1,045 exceptions to policy for approval at higher levels.”

Based on the numbers TMD provided us, Texas appeared at risk of losing approximately 2,686 members of the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard combined. In September we requested an update of these numbers. The Texas Military Department replied they were “working to provide accurate information.” None was provided before publication.

This February, TMD had a military town hall soldiers were forced to attend, and once there were pressured to vaccinate with biased information. This despite concerning scientific warnings about the effects of the COVID-19 vaccines themselves, according to testimony this June to the Texas Senate Health & Human Services Committee, and the World Council for Health stating there’s “sufficient evidence” that a recall of these vaccines is “immediately necessary.”

Some hope is shining in this darkness, however.

Legal Limbo
According to a database maintained by Military Freedom Keepers, there have been 37 lawsuits filed challenging the Biden military vaccine mandate. These have been filed by servicemen, contractors, and civilian employees. To date, according to the database, two have been dismissed.

It was widely reported on July 14 that Judge Matthew McFarland of the Southern District of Ohio extended a March 31 temporary restraining order, blocking the U.S. Air Force from expelling airmen who have filed for a religious exemption.

“While the court’s order only protects members of the air force, its reasoning is solid when applied to other branches,” Attorney Tony McDonald told Texas Scorecard. “The First Amendment requires that those in the Texas National Guard who have sought religious exemptions from vaccines should not be subject to discharge.”

There has been coverage of some of the other lawsuits as well.

On September 13, Fox News reported that the Navy SEALs rolled back an order that all unvaccinated seals would be “medically disqualified” from serving on missions. The rollback was triggered after 35 Navy SEALs filed a lawsuit challenging the order, resulting in a judge issuing an injunction against the order. U.S. Naval Institute News reported this injunction also stopped the Navy from separating more than 4,000 unvaccinated sailors who had applied for an exemption.

However, a lawyer for the Navy SEALs stated the rollback “does not appear to affect the applicability of Navy or [Dept. of Defense]-wide vaccine policies to NSW personnel—it just appears to remove the command-level direction.”

Finally, it was widely reported August 20 that District Judge Steven Merryday issued a “classwide preliminary injunction” to protect members of the U.S. Marine Corps from the military vaccine mandate. 3,733 Marines had filed for an exemption. Judge Merryday rebuked the U.S. Dept. of Defense and Marine Corps for not granting exemptions filed on religious grounds.

While encouraging, these particular lawsuits do not directly involve the National Guard.

Texas Scorecard asked the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton for an update on Texas’ lawsuit on this matter. “We filed our opening brief in this appeal on August 22, 2022, challenging the district court’s holding that the federal government may lawfully impose the vaccine mandate on non-federalized National Guardsmen (Guardsmen who have not been called into federal service, and so are serving at the State level),” Paxton’s office replied Sept. 15. “The Court has tentatively scheduled oral argument on an expedited basis for the week of November 7, 2022.”

These lawsuits could take years before there is a final resolution. Even with injunctions in place, that would mean unvaccinated soldiers would remain in limbo for a long time hoping some higher court doesn’t issue a final ruling against them. Also, what would prevent the Department of Defense requiring vaccination before enlistment?

As this issue continues to dance around in the courts, what could the State of Texas do now to protect her men and women in uniform and bring some finality to this situation?

More Threats
The tentacles of Biden’s mandates appear to go beyond enlisted servicemen.

In July, citizen organization Texas Freedom Coalition (TFC) shared with Texas Scorecard communications they had with sources in the U.S. Veterans Administration in Amarillo, Texas.

These sources alleged the unvaccinated employed at this location are being targeted for termination.

 

Source: Texas Freedom Coalition

Source: Texas Freedom Coalition

In one of the messages, a man by the name of “Salinas” is identified as an enforcer of this policy.

Source: Texas Freedom Coalition

Furthermore, in these messages, it is alleged that nurses given a vaccine exemption accommodation “are not allowed to get a position that would result in a promotion.”

Source: Texas Freedom Coalition

 

Finally, it is alleged that the “Amarillo VA is stringing the unvaccinated along.”

“They will not give them an exact final date of employment,” a source texted TFC. “What they are doing is using the unvaccinated to train their replacements, and when the VA is nice and staffed[,] [t]hey will dump all those employees at once.”

Source: Texas Freedom Coalition

Texas Freedom Coalition also provided us with an email rejecting a VA employee’s religious exemption request. The rejection email was sent by Steven Salinas, the local reasonable accommodations coordinator.

Source: Texas Freedom Coalition

Texas Scorecard sent an inquiry to Rodney Gonzalez, the medical center director at VA Amarillo Health Care, asking for confirmation if Salinas sent this out. We also requested rejection numbers versus accepted for religious exceptions, the testing and termination of unvaccinated workers, and about whether or not the unvaccinated were being used to train their replacements. No response was received before publication.

“The VA has the largest percentage of Veteran employees among civilian agencies in the US. The VA is in place to assist and care for those who fought to defend the constitution of the United States,” Sarah Fields of Texas Freedom Coalition told Texas Scorecard. “Therefore, it is ironic that such an institute that represents free Americans would infringe on the personal autonomy of all who fought for individual liberty.”

Possible Solutions
With Texas’ military forces at risk of potentially losing significant numbers of soldiers because of the Biden military vaccine mandate, what options are available to effectively respond?

“First, soldiers need to know legal challenges are making their way through the courts. Lower court rulings in Ohio (Air Force), Texas (Marines) and Florida (Army) are promising but don’t provide immediate relief,” said Rebecca Hardy, board president of Texans for Vaccine Choice. “Governor Abbott should be proposing solutions to ensure guardsmen are paid. Ron DeSantis has suggested National Guard troops be moved to State Guard duty and while this won’t make them whole, it will ensure they are paid while we fight to end mandates.”

Hardy wasn’t the only one to mention the State Guard option.

Ammon Blair, who has said he was forced to resign from the Texas National Guard for being unvaccinated, mentioned another possible option. As previously reported, one of the ways the Biden military vaccine mandate works is it does not allow unvaccinated soldiers to participate in federal taxpayer-funded military drills. The more drills you miss, the more AWOLs you rack up until you have enough to warrant a discharge.

“The only people that can circumvent that is the state guard, and that is why [Florida] Governor Ron DeSantis reestablished the Florida State Guard,” Blair told Texas Scorecard. “There’s zero federal accountability.”

At a June 15 press conference this year, announcing the creation of the Florida State Guard, Gov. DeSantis addressed the Biden military mandate as one of the reasons for this action. “We saw an opportunity to say ‘we don’t want to have [the] military imposing some of this stuff with the vax,” he stated. “There’s opportunities where people still want to serve, but they want to serve based on their conscience on that issue.”

Texas already has a State Guard, which reports to the Governor of Texas only, and not the American President. Texas Scorecard asked the Texas Military Department if the Texas State Guard (TSG) has a vaccine mandate. “The Texas Military Department remains compliant to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-39. The order stipulates that ‘no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,’” they replied.

We also asked if members of the Texas National Guard were leaving to join the TSG due to the mandate, and if so how many. “We don’t have any numbers on service members transitioning between components of the Texas Military Department,” TMD replied.

While pointing out the Texas State Guard is a solution, Blair believes this department is in need of serious reform. “You have 60 year old men as privates,” he said. “That force needs to be completely revamped, and professionalized, because as it stands right now, it’s just a joke.”

Sgt. Daniel Peters suggested the Texas Military Department (TMD) just tell the federal government everyone is vaccinated. “The other way is if the Texas National Guard puts everybody on state active duty,” he said. “Of course, they won’t get any federal benefits, they won’t get their points for retirement. But [the] Texas National Guard can, at least for now, save their assets by sending [soldiers] down to the border, or any other state mission that they want to pay for.”

Texas Scorecard asked the Texas Military Department how the Biden mandate is affecting Operation Lone Star, Gov. Abbott’s border security action. Their response appears to confirm Peters’ idea could work. “Service members deployed for Operation Lone Star are deployed on state orders and are not affected by this mandate staying in compliance with Executive Order No. GA-39,” TMD stated.

Both actions—moving unvaccinated soldiers to the State Guard or putting all soldiers on State Active Duty—would require state taxpayers shouldering more of the weight of funding our state’s military. Texas Scorecard asked Tim Hardin, CEO of taxpayer watchdog Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, about these two possible options.

“I think both solutions could be beneficial, but our support will depend on whether and how this saves taxpayers in the long run. We await to see any concrete proposals from [Gov.] Abbott, [Lt. Gov.] Patrick, or [Speaker of the House] Phelan,” he replied. “It is our understanding that there will be significant money spent to help with the border this coming session, and the addition of troops to the state guard could be beneficial to finally securing the border and ending the drain on our social welfare programs that are being taken advantage of by illegals.”

Public Servant Reactions
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham) is the Chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Health & Human Services, and has been among those fighting against COVID vaccine mandates. Last session, she authored Senate Bill 968, which sought to prohibit COVID-19 vaccine passports. She also held committee hearings about the COVID-19 vaccine issue, where Drs. Robert Malone and Peter McCullough testified about their scientific concerns with available COVID-19 vaccines.

Texas Scorecard contacted Kolkhorst’s office and showed her the records given to us by Ammon Blair and Sgt. Daniel Peters. We asked what she knew about the issue of military vaccine mandates, and, aside from Gov. Abbott’s lawsuit, what options were being explored to protect Texas’ soldiers.

“Thank you for bringing this military mandate issue to my attention. This policy could damage our military readiness,” Kolkhorst replied. “Just as we took legislative action to ban vaccine passports on the state level, I’m optimistic that new Congressional Leadership will be elected in November to undo this federal overreach.” She also expressed her support for the state’s lawsuit against Biden’s mandate.

Texas Scorecard contacted Gov. Abbott’s office and asked if they have considered putting all members of the Texas National Guard on state active duty or moving unvaccinated members over to the Texas State Guard. No response was received before publication.

In the meantime, the Texas Military Department has claimed they are compliant with Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-39, which states “no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine” and that the Texas adjutant general updates the governor’s office “on the status of all elements and operations of the Texas Military.” And yet, soldiers like Crystal Demaret and Sgt. Daniel Peters wait in a holding pattern.

There is also the question about Texas soldiers forced out already because of the mandate. On September 19, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked President Biden “when will he let those discharged from the military due to vax mandates return to protecting our country.”

For his part, Andy Hopper, co-founder of Wise County Conservatives and a chief warrant officer in the Texas State Guard, implored Gov. Abbott to “ignore any further guidance by the federal government regarding the vaccination status of our Texas volunteers who are willing and able to defend Texas.”

If you or someone you know in the Texas military are facing consequences for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, please contact us at rmontoya@texasscorecard.com.

Robert Montoya

A former filmmaker, University of North Texas graduate, and one-time assistant language teacher, Robert Montoya misses Japan and the 1980s. He is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard.

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