Tuberville’s actions are horribly dangerous to our military and hurt American families
As a parent, I know what an exciting and busy time it can be sending kids back to school. But for hundreds of military families, this school year is filled with uncertainty. With mom or dad, or both, waiting on a military promotion blocked by Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, they are stuck in limbo between assignments.
They’re left to figure out whether to start school at their current post, knowing things could change without notice, or to pay out of pocket to move the family to the next place, without a guarantee if or when they will receive their new promotion.
These are very difficult choices, even for those who are used to making enormous sacrifices in service to our country. Choices forced on them because Tuberville is single-handedly blocking the promotion of all our most senior military officers to the detriment of our military readiness, our national security and the well-being of military families.
As a 25-year Navy veteran, I didn’t choose where I was stationed until I was 47 years old and retired from the Navy and left NASA. Every young service member understands that when they sign up, but that doesn’t make it easy.
And it’s especially challenging if you get married and start a family. Every couple of years, your spouse has to find a new job in a new community, sometimes in a foreign country. Your kids have to acclimate to a new school. It’s tough under the best of circumstances and Tuberville’s actions have turned it into a nightmare.
Tuberville is treating our service members and their families as political pawns. For six months, he’s been blocking the promotion of every general and flag officer in the U.S. military. That’s 301 military positions and counting. Let that sink in.
That means everyone who is or is supposed to become a general or admiral has been prevented from being promoted and transferring to their next assignment. This leaves the most critical positions vacant or filled by acting personnel doing multiple jobs at once without the necessary experience and authority.
It has also impacted thousands of officers beneath them who are prevented from advancing. That hamstrings our military – and undermines our readiness to the benefit of our adversaries.
Tuberville has a disagreement with the Department of Defense. The military covers service member travel for various reasons. After the Supreme Court reversed the right of Americans to choose an abortion, the Pentagon created a policy that reimburses service members if they have to travel to access reproductive health care services, including abortion, but also in some cases when IVF services are not available where they’re stationed.
I support this policy because members don’t get to choose where they live and that shouldn’t prevent them from accessing the health care they need. Tuberville doesn’t and that’s his call. But the tactics he is using are unconscionable and dangerous.
Right now, there is no permanent confirmed leadership of the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Navy because of Tuberville. This has real, negative impact on our national security. After more than two decades of conducting patrols and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine Corps is training to reestablish its roots as a flexible amphibious force that can rapidly deploy in remote areas should we find ourselves in a conflict with China in the Pacific.
This is the type of wholesale shift that requires engaged leadership at every level, especially at the top. But right now, because of Tuberville, the new leadership of the Marine Corps has their hands tied, unable to issue official guidance to their marines on how to tackle these challenges and forced to do two jobs at once.
That has a meaningful impact on the readiness of our force. Tuberville either doesn’t understand that or just doesn’t care, but it doesn’t make a difference, because the consequences are the same.
The story is the same with a modernizing Army, Navy and Space Force, and in key positions across the military, including the heads of the Pacific Fleet, Air Combat Command, and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which plays an indispensable role in protecting the homeland, and hundreds more. I hear about this every time I visit a military base or speak with military leaders, from generals and admirals down the ranks.
I’ve heard of a family unable to sell a house and paying out of pocket for housing in two cities because mom or dad can’t take their next job. I’ve heard about a foreign military general perceiving a meeting with a U.S. Colonel as an insult, when that Colonel was supposed to have been promoted to general but hasn’t because of Tuberville.
I know one four-star officer who opted to retire following his wife’s long battle with cancer so that they could spend more time together. With retirement orders in hand, they left their assigned housing and moved to their retirement home in another state. However, with no confirmed replacement, his wife lives alone in their retirement home while the officer remains on duty.
And I’ve heard that the retirement rate of wing commanders in the Air Force has spiked because they would rather leave the Air Force than have their families caught in the mess that Tuberville has created. Tuberville’s actions are forcing some of the best and longest-tenured military officers in our country to walk away from decades of service.
Every single day Tuberville’s block on military nominations continues, the damage to our national security multiplies. He has lost one vote on the policy, declined the opportunity to have another, and no court has agreed with his claim that it’s illegal. Unable to change a policy he disagrees with, he’s opted to take his ball and go home, punishing service members and compounding damage to our national security.
If he remains committed to this destructive path, Republicans and Democrats need to consider whether it’s worth allowing a single senator, of either party, to destroy the leadership of our armed forces whenever they have a policy disagreement.
But Republicans in particular must decide whether Tuberville’s actions can be allowed to continue representing them, especially on the Senate Armed Services Committee where we are tasked to support our servicemembers, not use them as political pawns.
The damage to our national security and to the well-being of some of our longest serving military families is too great to allow this to go on.