Military Leaders Express Concern Over Sen. Tuberville’s Hold on Promotions and Its Long-Term Impact

by Ethan Kim
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Military Promotions Hold

In the wake of a single senator’s decision to halt military promotions due to disagreements over the Pentagon’s abortion policy, affected officers have largely refrained from making public comments, cautious about entering political debates. However, the growing implications of Senator Tommy Tuberville’s hold, a Republican from Alabama, have compelled an increasing number of officers to publicly voice their concerns.

High-ranking military officers this week directly addressed the issue, warning of the long-lasting consequences these holds could have on the armed forces. They fear the potential exit of promising young officers who become disillusioned by the situation. Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, Commander of the Air Combat Command, spoke to journalists this week, noting that many of these officers, who would willingly sacrifice their lives for the country, find it unacceptable to subject their families to this uncertainty.

Unusually, Tuberville’s action penalizes uniformed personnel who had no role in formulating the administrative policy that he opposes. While it’s customary for military leaders to avoid taking stances on political matters, to maintain good relations with lawmakers and to uphold the principle of civilian control over the military, the situation has even compelled the Pentagon’s forthcoming highest-ranking military officer to comment. Navy Adm. Christopher Grady expressed his concerns about younger officers caught in career limbo, stressing the importance of confirming Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Over the past few years, multiple political orders have had a direct influence on the military, including policies related to transgender personnel, COVID-19 vaccines, and access to abortion services. This has led to a perception that the military is becoming increasingly politicized, according to Mark Harkins, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.

Senator Tuberville implemented the holds after a Supreme Court ruling and ensuing policy changes by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, which he asserts contravene federal law. Tuberville’s blanket hold on military promotions will not be lifted, he states, until this policy is reversed. The hold impacts military personnel more significantly than civilian nominees, as noted by Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The obstruction of military promotions is not unprecedented. Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth previously placed a similar hold in response to alleged interference with Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s promotion. As it stands, Tuberville’s hold has affected 315 military officers, disproportionately impacting smaller branches like the U.S. Space Force. According to Gen. Chance Saltzman, chief of Space Force operations, this is causing significant disruptions in leadership roles.

Not all officers agree on the impact. Gen. Charles Flynn, who heads Army forces in the Pacific, stated that the holds are not creating any practical challenges in his region. Nonetheless, some argue that military officers should refrain from commenting on such a political issue. Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, emphasizes the constitutional role Congress plays in civilian control of the military.

In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Adm. Lisa Franchetti testified that the consequences of these holds will take years to remedy, affecting the promotion and retention of lower-ranking officers. At the same time, Tuberville maintained his position, urging the military to steer clear of political involvement.

Gen. Mark Kelly offered a blunt assessment of the situation’s geopolitical implications. He cautioned that the hold is undermining the confidence of U.S. allies while emboldening adversaries, stating that celebratory activities in the Chinese Embassy reflect this sentiment.

Contributed by Lita C. Baldor from Washington.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Military Promotions Hold

What is the central issue discussed in the article?

The article discusses the hold placed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville on military promotions, which he implemented due to disagreements over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. The hold has raised concerns among high-ranking military officials about its long-term impact on the U.S. armed forces.

Who are the key figures involved?

The key figures include Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who placed the hold; Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, who spoke about the issue to journalists; and Navy Adm. Christopher Grady, who also expressed his concerns. Adm. Lisa Franchetti testified in a Senate hearing about the impact of the hold.

How many officers are affected by Tuberville’s hold?

As of the article’s publication, 315 military officers are directly affected by Tuberville’s hold on military promotions.

What are the potential long-term consequences of the hold?

The hold is viewed as having far-reaching consequences, affecting not just the officers immediately impacted but also the future of young officers and the long-term efficacy of the military. The chain of promotions is halted, affecting pay, retirement, and future assignments.

What is the public stance of military officials on this issue?

While military officials usually avoid commenting on political matters, the situation has compelled high-ranking officers to publicly voice their concerns. They warn of the negative impact the hold could have on the military, from leadership disruptions to potential talent loss.

Why is this hold considered unusual?

The hold is considered unusual because it penalizes uniformed personnel who had no role in formulating the administrative policy that Sen. Tuberville opposes. This direct impact on military officers as opposed to civilian nominees is what makes it atypical.

What other similar instances of holds on promotions have occurred?

In July 2020, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth placed a similar hold in response to reports that then-President Donald Trump was interfering with the promotion of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. The hold was lifted two weeks later after Duckworth learned that Vindman had been selected for promotion.

What is Sen. Tuberville’s justification for the hold?

Sen. Tuberville asserts that the Pentagon’s abortion policy, initiated by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, violates federal law. He demands that the policy be rescinded before he lifts the hold on military promotions.

What is the geopolitical implication of the hold, according to Gen. Mark Kelly?

Gen. Mark Kelly warns that the hold is undermining the confidence of U.S. allies and emboldening adversaries. He specifically mentioned that the situation is causing celebration in the Chinese Embassy.

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