Live from Music Row, Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Sergeant First Class Michelle Edwards of the Tennessee National Guard in-studio to discuss her career in the Guard and her reasons for retiring after the COVID-19 vaccine mandate came down from Washington.
Leahy: We welcome to our microphones Michelle Edwards, Sergeant First Class in the Tennessee National Guard. Good morning, Michelle.
Edwards: Good morning.
Leahy: Well, you have a story to tell. Where are you from, Michelle?
Edwards: I’m from Nashville.
Leahy: Nashville. Grew up here?
Edwards: Grew up here in Nashville, yes.
Leahy: And when did you join the Tennessee National Guard?
Edwards: I joined in 1997.
Leahy: That’s a long time.
Edwards: I know.
Leahy: 1997. So that’s 25 years.
Leahy: And you’re now a sergeant first class?
Edwards: I am. Have you been in the Tennessee National Guard? Did you go to high school here?
Edwards: I did. I graduated from Overton High School.
Leahy: Great school. Did you go right into the National Guard after high school?
Edwards: I joined when I was 21, so it was a few years after graduation.
Leahy: What have been your duties in the Tennessee National Guard? How much of that time has been full-time? How much has it been drilling on the weekends? What have you been doing?
Edwards: Well, I was a reserve soldier in the beginning, and then I hired on and become AGR – Active Guard Reserve soldier.
Leahy: Active Guard Reserve. Tell us what that is. Well, you’re on active duty for the Tennessee Army National Guard. How long have you been active duty for the Tennessee National Guard?
Edwards: About a little over 21 years.
Leahy: Most of the time you’ve been active-duty?
Edwards: I haven’t.
Leahy: What do you do, like, if you’re active-duty, what’s your day like?
Edwards: Well, you know, you get up, you go to work, and you pretty much perform – active duty service.
Is the work at the Armory down here.
Edwards: It is.
Leahy: Right here in Nashville.
Edwards: Right. And I’ve been stationed in several different places across Tennessee.
Leahy: What other places have you been stationed?
Edwards: I worked at Joint Force Headquarters there in Nashville, off Sidco [Drive], and I have worked in Columbia, Tennessee, Smyrna, Tennessee.
Leahy: So what have been your duties, your most recent post? What have you been doing?
Edwards: I am, actually I was S1, which is basically human resources.
Leahy: Okay, great.
Edwards: I take care of soldiers every day.
Leahy: Soldiers coming in, going out.
Leahy: And soldiers have things that need to be taken care of.
Edwards: Exactly. All their administrative work.
Leahy: Okay, so now what is your current status with the Tennessee National Guard?
Edwards: I am now on transitional leave. Retiring.
Leahy: You’re retiring?
Edwards: I am.
Leahy: Why are you retiring?
Edwards: Pretty much the COVID mandates have pushed me to that decision.
Leahy: Inform our audience about the COVID mandate. When did you first get a mandate? Who told you? So the mandate says if you want to be in the Tennessee National Guard, you have to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Is that basically it?
Leahy: When did you hear this?
Edwards: We worked all through the pandemic, and of course, we kind of knew it was going to come down the chain of command, but probably, I guess, August of last year is when they started pushing the mandates.
Leahy: So did you get a directive that said, hey, Michelle, you and everybody else in the Tennessee Nashville Guard, you better get that COVID-19 vaccine. Or … or what?
Leahy: Or what?
Edwards: You’re going to either be forced to retire or you’re going to some of the soldiers with ETS.
Leahy: What’s ETS?
Edwards: They’re going to end their term of service.
Leahy: End term of service. In otherwise, leave.
Edwards: Exactly, they’re going to leave the military. So if they didn’t take a COVID vaccine, will they be forced to leave?
Edwards: They will.
Leahy: Is that where we are right now?
Edwards: That’s where we are right now. And at the end of this month, they will be discharging soldiers who do not meet that mandate.
Leahy: And there are quite a few of them.
Edwards: There are.
Leahy: And the reasoning is – is this a lawful order? Is this a lawful order from … who gave the order?
Edwards: Well, it comes down from NGB.
Leahy: What is NGB?
Edwards: National Guard Bureau.
Leahy: Who runs National Guard Bureau?
Edwards: They’re active-duty military, just like us. It’s coming from Washington. It’s coming down.
Leahy: Who in Washington? The secretary of defense?
Leahy: The president and the secretary of defense have said every National Guard member must take a COVID-19 vaccine.
Edwards: It’s coming down.
Leahy: You’ve chosen not to take it?
Edwards: I’ve chosen not to.
Leahy: Tell us why.
Edwards: I mean, multiple reasons, but I’m a soldier that has deployed twice in my career.
Leahy: Where did you deploy?
Edwards: To Iraq twice, and the first time in 2004 when we were in the middle of everything, we took so many vaccines, and at that time, it was anthrax.
You take those series and you come back. And I spent about five years back, and then here we go again. We’re deploying again. Well, after so many years, you do start having side effects of vaccines that you have.
Leahy: So other vaccines you’ve taken, you’ve had side effects.
Edwards: Correct. And when it comes down to COVID, just about every single person I know at some point had COVID. And you start to think, you start to look at things, and I had it once.
Leahy: So you’ve had it already.
Edwards: I have.
Leahy: So you would have some natural immunity.
Leahy: Did you tell your commanders there, hey, I don’t want to take this vaccine. I’ve already had COVID. You have given me, I guess, the argument, is this is an unlawful order, so I don’t have to take it? Do you have a conversation like that, or what’s your conversations like?
Edwards: I’m telling you, me, my co-workers, everybody, we’ve discussed this over and over, and you discuss it with your chain of command, and you talk to the doctors.
And I mean, yes, natural immunity is a thing, and I would say I have been around multiple people, multiple people through the last two years. They were COVID-positive. I’ve had it once. I have not been sick since.
Leahy: But the Department of Defense, through your command structure, is telling you you must take the COVID-19 vaccine or we’re going to kick you out of the Tennessee National Guard.
Leahy: I understand a number of you are asking Governor Bill Lee to fix this problem and not force you out. What have you heard from Governor Bill Lee?
Edwards: At this point in time? I haven’t heard anything that I know of.
Leahy: Have they responded to anyone? And I’m hearing that there are a number of current members of the Tennessee National Guard that have asked Governor Lee to intervene.
Leahy: We did a story on this at The Tennessee Star. It was very clear in your communication. You said it was an unlawful order and we don’t want to comply with it. We also don’t want to get kicked out.
We also saw that I think it’s like 10 percent of the Tennessee National Guard is about to be kicked out by the end of this month. It looks to me like it’s going to happen. It looks like they’re going to be kicked out.
Listen to the interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.