'Unfair Burden': Tuberville Blockade on Promotions Is Stressing Military Families, 3 Service Secretaries Say

Sen. Tommy Tuberville
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing considering the nominations of Air Force Air Force Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot and Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting to the grade of general and to be top commanders of the the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the United States Space Command, respectively, Wednesday, July 26, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

Service secretaries for the Army, Air Force and Navy took aim at Sen. Tommy Tuberville's continued hold on military promotions, claiming the Alabama Republican is harming national security, overworking officers and causing undue stress on service members' families.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro all signed a joint opinion piece Monday evening in The Washington Post that argued Tuberville's decision to hold up military promotions for six months in the Senate is having real consequences in the ranks.

"Across the services, many generals and admirals are being forced to perform two roles simultaneously. The strain of this double duty places a real and unfair burden on these officers, the organizations they lead and their families," they wrote in the opinion piece.

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Tuberville's move has stopped the Pentagon from putting nearly 300 officers into new positions and duty stations, and has also delayed confirmation of service chiefs for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Since late February, Tuberville has used a procedural tactic known as a hold to block confirmations of all general and flag officers over his opposition to the Pentagon's policy of covering leave and travel expenses for service members who need abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade.

While a hold cannot prevent the Senate from confirming nominees, it requires the chamber to take individual roll call votes on each nominee rather than confirming them in batches with voice votes as it usually does for noncontroversial military promotions. Pentagon officials expect about 650 nominees to be entangled in the hold by the end of the year.

Tuberville's hold has also been affecting military families, who are left in limbo regarding their service member's assignment location and have in some cases taken on extra financial strain because of the uncertainty.

"We know officers who have incurred significant unforeseen expenses and are facing genuine financial stress because they have had to relocate their families or unexpectedly maintain two residences," the secretaries wrote. "Military spouses who have worked to build careers of their own are unable to look for jobs because they don't know when or if they will move. Children haven't known where they will go to school ... All because of the actions of a single senator."

In July, the Secure Families Initiative delivered a petition signed by more than 550 military family members to Senate leaders and Tuberville calling for an end to the blockade.

Tuberville has said he will drop the hold only if the Pentagon reverses its abortion policy or if Congress enshrines the leave and travel policy into law, two seemingly unlikely situations.

He has also argued that the hold is supported by former service members. Tuberville based the claim on a letter signed by 5,000 people, including veterans, GOP House members and leaders of conservative advocacy groups, who commended him for pushing back on a "left-wing social agenda."

Katherine Kuzminski, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank who researches military culture and family issues, told Military.com in an interview Tuesday that Tuberville's letter of support from veterans still doesn't absolve him of using the military for a political end.

"Even with these letters of support for Tuberville from veteran organizations, it's completely misguided with respect to how civil-military operations function," Kuzminski said. "It's not fair to use uniformed service members as a hostage negotiation tactic."

Tuberville's hold is also hindering the ability of high-ranking officers, especially the service chiefs, to enact policy for the rank and file.

Positions have been filled with other officers who are taking on the roles in an acting capacity. The secretaries said "these jobs -- and dozens of others across the force -- are being performed by acting officials without the full range of legal authorities necessary to make the decisions that will sustain the United States' military edge."

The joint opinion piece from the service secretaries is notable, according to Kuzminski. The last time the Army, Air Force and Navy civilian leaders shared an opinion piece together was in October, when they called on young Americans to join the military in the pages of The Wall Street Journal as all three services faced historically low recruiting numbers.

Kuzminski said the holdup also sends a message to lower-ranking officers and enlisted service members that their jobs and futures could be used as bargaining chips.

"If you hold this up long enough, it's every single nomination all the way down the line, which is your entire officer corps," Kuzminski added. "And because it's a closed system, your entire officer corps for the next 40 years is affected by the decisions that are happening today."

The service secretaries acknowledged that Tuberville has every right to oppose the policy and even mentioned that lawmakers "are free to introduce legislation, gather support for that legislation and pass it" in opposition to the Pentagon's travel guidelines. But all of them doubled down and said the hold sends a brutal message to service members.

"The generals and admirals who will be leading our forces a decade from now are colonels and captains today," the secretaries wrote. "They are watching this spectacle and might conclude that their service at the highest ranks of our military is no longer valued by members of Congress or, by extension, the American public."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Military Spouses Deliver Petition Calling for End to Tuberville Blockade on Senior Officer Promotions

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