Keep COVID military vaccine mandate, defense chief says

FILE - Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur, left, is greeted by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during an honor cordon ceremony, upon his arrival at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Washington. NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced U.S. rocket artillery system. Estonian defense officials said Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 that the deal with the U.S. worth more than $200 million is the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin introduces the B-21 Raider stealth at Northrop Grumman Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Palmdale, Calif. America’s newest nuclear stealth bomber made its debut Friday after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China. The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. Almost every aspect of the program is classified. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops, as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it.