Internal recordings of recent town halls held within the Texas military show a high number of soldiers are at risk of being discharged due to federal vaccine mandates. A Texas military leader expressed little hope that the strategy Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen (relying on the courts) will prevent this.

Morale among the Texas National Guard is already low, according to multiple sources deployed to the border as part of Operation Lone Star (OLS). Their superiors have admitted as much, evidenced by the growing volume of still unfulfilled promises to address problems like ongoing pay issues and lack of supplies.

But, there’s another issue that might be weighing on soldiers’ minds, one that could further derail OLS: vaccine mandates.

At two recently held town halls of the 36th Infantry Division, the issue of vaccine mandates was a key focus of the conversation and pressure campaign from superiors. According to recordings of both meetings, provided by a source, and slides from the second meeting, the scale of the problem is massive.

During the January 12 town hall, a man our source identified as Maj. Gen. Charles Aris, commander of the 36th, delivered the news that he expects Abbott’s lawsuits will fail. He explained that if soldiers aren’t vaccinated, they will be discharged and unable to serve in the Texas National Guard.

“The federal government is saying that on 30 June, if you’re not vaccinated, that you’re going to have to be not paid. And they’re doing that at the federal level; there’s nothing that the state level we are going to do or can do about it,” he said. “When you get enough MUTAs [Multiple Unit Training Assemblies] that are unpaid, then you’re going to be discharged, and the character of your discharge will be determined by somebody—we don’t know who—and you’ll basically no longer be able to serve in the Texas National Guard.”

Aris also cast doubt that Abbott’s lawsuit will protect Texas soldiers. 

He’s filed a lawsuit. … But if you ask me, my opinion is that I believe that lawsuit’s going to fail and that we’re going to lose whoever is not vaccinated on the 30th of June.

During the January 14 town hall, Aris (who is also a lawyer) explained why he believes the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding vaccine mandates for healthcare workers is an indicator that the Court will not protect Texas soldiers.

“What [SCOTUS] did affirm was that the hospitals and medical care workers that get federal funds have to be vaccinated as valid. So that tells you that if it has to do with the government, it’s going to be upheld,” he said. “I will tell you, in addition, that if you do any Supreme Court stuff … generally, they give wide berth to the military to make rules and regulations to govern themselves. And that we have our own system, TCMJ, or UCMJ on the federal level, to govern us, because we have different rules that apply for us than anybody else.”

Showing the scale of the problem, Aris said “8,000 soldiers are at risk” of being fired for not complying with vaccine mandates.

“We’re already starting to erode our readiness and the things that got us selected as one of two premier divisions out of the eight divisions in the army,” he said during the January 12 meeting. “Eight thousand soldiers are at risk, and in order to get there by June, we’ve got … 1,600 a month that have to get vaccinated.” He also said exemption packets are due March 30.

Slides in the January 14 presentation lay out the statistics all the way down to the battalion level of the 36th ID. Aris mentioned there are probably more vaccinated troops that have yet to be recorded and represented in the numbers in the meeting’s slides, as well as this article.

Aris stated, “You can see it’s around 59 percent are unvaccinated, which is a large percentage. And so, we need help with that.” 

Aris urged troops to get vaccinated and asked superiors to pressure their brothers and sisters in uniform to do so, as well. “Hey, I understand your heart, you know, your heartfelt belief. But I’m asking you to take one for the team and do what you’ve done all along and be a selfless service and continue to serve with us.”

For months, the Texas Republican Party has been calling for Gov. Abbott to call an immediate fourth special session to deal with vaccine mandates in Texas. So far, these pleas have gone unanswered.

Instead, Abbott has suggested that the courts and his executive orders are enough to sideline vaccine mandates. Apparently, this guidance isn’t even applicable to his own direct reports in the Texas military.

Texas Scorecard sent a press inquiry to Gov. Abbott’s office. No reply was received before publication.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.