By DoD News
By Jim Garamone
The Senate has returned to work, and there is still no resolution in sight of confirmation of general and flag officers by the body.
Alabama Sen. Thomas H. Tuberville has put holds on the nominations of 301 senior military leaders in an effort to force changes in the Defense Department’s position on equal access to reproductive health care services.
Pentagon officials continue to stress that DOD’s policy on reproductive health coverage has remained consistent, and no changes to the policy have been made. To ensure equitable access to care, DOD implemented a policy enabling service members to travel outside their duty stations’ state if that state imposes restrictions on reproductive health access.
The Tuberville holds have already resulted in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps being led by “acting” military leaders. Some in the Pentagon have said if the holds continue, Joint Chiefs of Staff will have to be renamed “Joint Chief of Staff.”
Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. — nominated to replace Army Gen. Mark A. Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — is the most senior officer affected, but there are many more. Brown has been approved out of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the full Senate cannot vote on the nomination.
While the positions are being filled by acting leaders, there are limitations to what those individuals can do. While they are serving in an acting status in the position that they have been promoted to, they also must continue to fill their current jobs. For example, Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith now serves as both the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and as acting commandant.
President Joe Biden nominated Smith for the top job in May, and his nomination was reported out favorably by the Senate Armed Services Committee in June. It is yet to be acted on by the full Senate. And that is just one example.
Defense leaders renewed their calls for the Senate to lift these holds and speedily confirm those officers who are in legislative limbo. In a Washington Post commentary today, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the Tuberville holds are “eroding” the military.
“I’ve been asked before to try to put this into context in terms of why does this matter,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder today. “With football season starting, … imagine going into the football season with a bunch of acting coaches for each of our teams with a regulation that limits any of those acting coaches from presuming that he or she was actually going to officially lead the team.”
That would have a ripple effect throughout the team, as “acting coaches who come up through the organization are now responsible for not only being the offensive and defensive coordinators, but also acting as the head coach,” he said. “In the short term, they’re likely going to make things happen because that’s what good leaders do.
“But what happens when performance on the field becomes impacted over time,” he asked. “How are you going to deal with the uncertainty of the coaching staff and in the locker room in terms of who is in charge?”
This sort of situation would impact performance of any team, Ryder said. It would also impact the person fans hold accountable, he said.
If that is the course for a team playing football, the same is true of teams that have a far more serious mission – like the military.
“This is an issue for Congress to address,” Ryder said. “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on how they should go about it. But I can tell you that our military leaders simply want to do the job that our nation expects them to do — lead our military to protect and defend our nation and, if necessary, overwhelmingly defeat our enemies in battle.”