Army Becomes Latest Service with No Top Officer as Senate Hold Persists

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George answers questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., July 12, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Resnick)

The Army was supposed to see a changeover in senior leadership this week -- a new chief of staff and sergeant major -- but in a highly unusual twist, the service is without a top officer due to a Republican senator's blockade of at least 300 senior officer promotions.

Gen. Randy George, the service's No. 2 officer, stepped in as acting chief of staff on Friday as Gen. James McConville retired. George was nominated to take McConville's place but is stuck in his role as vice chief of staff, making the Army the latest service branch with its highest uniformed position vacant.

The Marine Corps currently has no commandant, and the Navy will soon be without a chief of naval operations as Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues to block the Senate from confirming and promoting generals and admirals to fill the positions. The Alabama Republican is protesting the Pentagon policy of giving leave to troops who need abortion and other reproductive health services from civilian providers.

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George will be able to perform the duties of the chief of staff as he awaits confirmation from the Senate, but he'll be performing dual roles as the chief and vice chief -- as the officer in line for the vice position is also caught up in the ever expanding gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Both George and McConville declined interview requests ahead of this story.

Tuberville is eight months into his procedural blockade of senior officer promotions, a move that has been very publicly slammed by military leadership and caused some splintering within his own party. But the senator has shown no signs of backing down over the personnel leave policy.

"The failure to confirm our superbly qualified senior uniformed leaders undermines our military readiness," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Friday. "It undermines our retention of some of our very best officers. And it is upending the lives of far too many of their spouses, children and loved ones. And this disruption is the last thing that America's military families deserve."

The Army vice chief traditionally runs the day-to-day administrative and policy work of the service, while the chief serves as the force's face and representative at the Pentagon and to allied nations. Now, both of those exhausting and time-consuming roles will fall onto George, spurring concern among Pentagon staff that the Army will be less efficient if the Senate blockade drags on.

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer, a career Green Beret, on Friday took his spot at the service's top enlisted leader, replacing retiring Michael Grinston. That senior enlisted position does not require Senate approval.

The Senate holds committee hearings and then typically confirms service chiefs along with bulk promotion approvals for hundreds of senior officers -- a routine function that allows the crucial decisions to move quickly and smoothly in the glacially slow chamber.

But Tuberville's hold blocks those routine bulk approvals, forcing the Senate either to just put off the work and go through the slow, arduous process of voting out each promotion separately on the Senate floor.

"We need the Senate to act not only on this nomination, but also on the 300 other general and flag officers across the armed services whose careers and lives are now in limbo because of this unprecedented hold," Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said. "We need these leaders in place to ensure the readiness of our force. And we need to end all of this uncertainty for our military families."

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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