Tuberville’s protest is putting stress on units, Pentagon says
The number of unfilled positions has risen to about 300.
The number of senior positions left vacant by an Alabama senator’s hold has risen to about 300, creating decision-making vacuums that are putting extra stress on military units and top leaders, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
“Right now, we have approximately 300 general officers, flag officers, and policy officials being held up in terms of their ability to have their nominations go through the Senate,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. Those holdups infuse “uncertainty into the chain of command at a time when we need to be focused on our mission.”
Since February, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has been protesting the Pentagon’s reproductive health care policy, which provides access to pregnancy termination for service members even if they are among the 46 percent of active-duty women stationed in U.S. states that have new limits on abortion. The result has been a blanket hold on advancing key military nominations through the Senate, including the next Marine Corps commandant, chief of naval operations, and Army chief of staff.
Since then, the White House and Pentagon have become increasingly vocal about the effects of the nomination holds on daily operations.
“As you see more and more of these holds increase, it's going to start to impact not only the folks that were intended to fleet up into those positions, but the folks behind them and their family members, in terms of are you going to be moving this summer? Are you going to be able to enroll your children into school? And so in the midst of trying to do the things that we need to do as a U.S. military, this just adds another element of uncertainty and friction into the system. That's not helpful,” Ryder said.
The promotion holdups can also create a decision-making vacuum that overburdens senior leaders and ultimately stresses individual units as only certain positions, individuals or ranks can exercise certain authorities, he said.
Ryder said he has seen how military organizations suffer when headed by an acting leader who lacks the authorization or rank to make decisions.
“When we've not been able to have an officer serve at an authorized rank, a lot of times that work has to get passed further up the chain of command, which starts to, over time, create an administrative burden, but also puts friction on the unit. Because as they're trying to do their business, they can't get quick permission to do things.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last conversed with Tuberville before departing for Papua New Guinea in July, Ryder said. But the Pentagon is standing by its policy.
“We have a very clear policy that is in support of our service members and at issue here is equitable health care for all of our service members, no matter where they're stationed. And that's, frankly, something that we have always supported and will continue to support,” said Ryder. “And in this case, we're talking about reproductive health care, whether it's in vitro, or if it's an abortion.
“But again, service members don't have the right to choose which state they get deployed to, are stationed in. And so this policy is intended to ensure that there's equitable treatment of all servicemembers.”