(NBC, KYMA/KECY) - The Pentagon formally dropped its COVID-19 vaccination mandate on Tuesday.
But, a new memo signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also gives commanders some discretion in how or whether to deploy unvaccinated troops.
Austin's memo has been widely anticipated ever since legislation signed into law on Dec. 23 gave him 30 days to rescind the mandate.
The Defense Department had already stopped all related personnel actions, such as discharging troops who refused the shot.
Austin said that commanders have the authority to maintain unit readiness and a healthy force.
He added, however, that other department policies including mandates for other vaccines remain in place.
That includes, he said, the ability of commanders to consider, as appropriate, the individual immunization status of personnel. The status includes making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions. Furthermore, these decisions are important when vaccination is a requirement "for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation."
The contentious political issue, which has divided the country, forced more than 8,400 service members out of the military for refusing to obey a lawful order when they declined the vaccine.
Thousands of others sought religious and medical exemptions. Austin's memo ends those exemption requests.