The GOP Has Turned Its Back on America’s Military Families

November 6, 2023 Topic: U.S. Military Region: United States Tags: SenateAbortionU.S. MilitaryPromotions

The GOP Has Turned Its Back on America’s Military Families

Senator Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military nominations is wreaking havoc on the men and women of America’s armed forces.

When members of America’s armed forces are transferred from one duty station to another, they receive “Permanent Change of Station” (PCS) orders. The receipt, typically by e-mail or message traffic, sets in motion a chain of events not limited to the military member himself. Because of a single U.S. senator—Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)—and the complicity of the members of his party, many of our military families find themselves unwittingly and distressingly in a state of limbo.

Senators from both parties need to come together to fix this, and they need to fix this now. My former party—and the one I served in two Administrations, namely the Republican Party—has the greatest responsibility for fixing this mess, as Senator Tuberville is one of theirs. The GOP must channel Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) rather than those who know better, like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

The military family provides the support structure for our service members to do their demanding jobs. During my ten years of active duty, I was privileged to have held positions that frequently required long hours, extensive travel, and high stress. It was my wife and kids that helped me keep my head screwed on straight. We need to support military families, if for no other reason than that they help military personnel do their jobs better.

It is not unusual for PCS orders to send a service member thousands of miles from their current duty stations, sometimes to countries on the other side of the planet. Getting one’s orders is, therefore, a family affair. The receipt of PCS orders often triggers specific actions that the military family has become accustomed to over the years: a “house-hunting” trip to the new duty station, determining appropriate schools for dependent children, identifying childcare resources, arranging for the shipment of cars and household goods, and perhaps the most challenging of all, the need for the spouse or partner to find a new job in a different location. These are stressful activities, but, as any military family can tell you, they are not optional.

Further, two facts about military families drive home just how destructive Senator Tuberville’s actions are to those families. First, most military spouses or partners work. Second, most military families do not live in government quarters. Resumes need to be sent, leases need to be signed or extended, and landlords need to be notified. Landlords insist that leases be renewed annually and will not make an exception just because a single Senator either cannot or will not understand the damage he is doing. Due to Senator Tuberville’s actions, military families don’t know how long they must wait for their next orders. Everyone loses. The unnecessary emotional burden that has been placed on our military families, particularly minor children who are entitled to stable educational situations and critical socialization experiences, is cruel and inexcusable.

Senator Tuberville’s ignorance of military issues makes this situation all the more frustrating. This freshman senator is a former football coach who proclaims that “there is no one more military than me,” although he has never served a day in uniform. His actions are based solely on his disagreement with a Defense Department (DoD) policy regarding reproductive health.

We can argue endlessly about the merits of the policy, but taking a cudgel to the military promotion system is no way to foster meaningful dialogue. Nonetheless, an arcane Senate rule permits an individual Senator to place a hold on nominations, and unless the Senate is willing to change the rule, there is little that can be done.

Throughout, Senator Tuberville and his defenders in the GOP have made the case that the hold isn’t hurting the military, but that is vacuous. There are three primary ways this hurts military readiness.

First, the impact of Senator Tuberville’s actions is not restricted to Flag and General officers (and their families). It is a fact that promotions held up at higher levels in the chain of command have a trickle-down effect on the Force. When a Brigadier General cannot be confirmed, the Colonel below him will likely be designated as “acting,” ditto the Lieutenant Colonel a rung below and again the rung below that.

Second, the disruption visited on the armed forces by Senator Tuberville’s actions has a wide-ranging impact on many service members and, of equal importance, their families.

Third, military leaders designated as “acting” are severely hampered in their ability to lead. The officer “warming a desk” until the selected candidate is confirmed will not be making the kinds of decisions that may be needed to advance the priorities of the command. The widespread impact on the ability of commanders to command has an appalling effect on overall readiness.

After months of inaction, a number of Democratic Senate Members joined by a handful of GOP members are attempting to engineer a solution around the hold without changing the rule. The success of this gambit is far from certain. Indeed, a temporary rule change could solve the problem.

The Senate needs to ask itself about the cost of its reluctance to change a rule. In the past, individual Senators have held up nominations and, after succumbing to pressure or satisfying themselves that their point was made, moved on. Until Senator Tuberville took the stage, these “holds” were mere bumps in the road. His perversion of the “hold rule” has changed the landscape for members of both parties. The cost (a serious threat to our national security) is too great to justify the further use of what the Senate, in the past, has found to be a convenient tool. Maybe it can be reinstated sometime in the future when its irresponsible use is a lesser threat, but for today, it needs to end, and it needs to end now.

Meanwhile, at military facilities around the world, the inability to put senior officers in their designated commands continues to erode vital command functions and fosters poor morale, negativity, and cynicism among the troops. Military spouses and dependent children continue to have their lives placed on hold. Our warriors and their families deserve better than this.

Robert Kelly is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and served in the White House in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations. He also served as a United States Coast Guard JAG Officer.

Image: Shutterstock.