A Mississippi Army National Guard major general serving in Congress tackled controversial matters including the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and so-called military “wokeness” on Tuesday.
Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., addressed the topics while taking questions at the 25th Annual NGAUS Industry Day, an event gathering industry officials to learn more about working with the Guard.
Kelly promised the next Congress will reduce what he and other Republican lawmakers believe is too much focus on social issues in America’s armed forces.
“I think you’re going to see that peeled back a bit,” Kelly said.
“I’m all about equity and inclusion and all those things,” he said at the National Guard Memorial, the association headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Our job is to kill the bad guys to keep them from imposing their will on the United States."
Kelly, a House Armed Services Committee member, argued the military should concentrate on what unites, rather than what divides, military members.
“It’s not about finding the differences between us,” he noted. “It’s about finding the commonalities.”
“All I care about is that when you show up, you’re capable and ready to fight,” Kelly continued.
Kelly also voiced hope Congress will pass the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act this week.
The annual defense policy bill is considered must-pass legislation before the 118th Congress starts in January.
Kelly said the NDAA's latest version would end the Defense Department rule forcing all military personnel to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We will not pass an act through the House that does not repeal the COVID mandate,” he said, citing a meeting earlier Tuesday with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
“The science shows differently now,” Kelly concluded of the COVID-19 vaccine. “It does not stop transmission."
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced in August 2021 that all U.S. troops must get COVID-19 vaccinations.
Critics have charged the shot hurts recruitment and retention during one of the military’s toughest talent markets in decades.
Kelly admitted he doesn’t believe personnel discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine should be reinstated.
“As a soldier, soldiers should follow orders,” he said.
Kelly also announced he will become the Republican co-chair of the House’s National Guard Caucus during the next Congress.
The congressman added that many Guard soldiers and airmen lack health care during certain duty statuses.
For example, many Guardsmen don't have health care while serving in a state duty-status.
“It is our job in Congress to make those things easier,” Kelly said.
“They should not consider cost,” he concluded of lawmakers. “Those are earned benefits.”
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson has made providing Guardsmen with zero-cost TRICARE a top priority of his tenure as National Guard Bureau chief.
Hokanson has long suggested zero-cost TRICARE is critical for military readiness.
NGAUS estimates 190 people attended this year’s Industry Day, while about 125 participated in a mini-workshop on Monday.
— By Mark Hensch