At least 25 three- and four-star officers were forced to delay retirements to ensure continuity of command due to a Republican senator's months-long blockade against hundreds of military promotions, according to a new memo from Senate Democrats.
The memo released by Democrat lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday evening details personal stories of hardship and breaks down an array of effects stemming from Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on confirming general and flag officer nominees. Tuberville, who opposes a Pentagon policy allowing troops leave time and travel expenses for abortions, is a member of the committee.
"Most of these officers have served for 30 or 40 years, mobilized for numerous combat deployments, and have missed countless birthdays, anniversaries, children's births, sports games and music recitals," the memo said, referring to service members who have put off retirement because their replacements can’t be confirmed.
Military leaders have repeatedly argued the Tuberville blockade hinders the military's effectiveness in part by adding stress to military families, but have provided few specific examples of the harm to families.
The memo from Senate Democrats details several specific anecdotes of turmoil brought to military families. For example, a Navy spouse is now unemployed after she gave up her job as a public school teacher in anticipation of her husband's overseas assignment that has been delayed by the hold, according to the memo.
At least three officers have, at their own expense, moved their families to their expected new duty stations without them so that their children could enroll in school, the memo said. In two other cases, officers disenrolled their children from school in anticipation of their moves but now can't enroll them in a new school.
In the Marine Corps, a coast-to-coast move for a senior officer and his family was canceled after their household goods were already shipped, and the items are now sitting in storage at their future duty station, according to the memo. And two Air Force officers are living in temporary housing and paying out of pocket for storage because they sold their homes in anticipation of having to move.
"Military families bear the costs of the senator's hold more than any other group. These affected families have been understandably reluctant to share their experiences, likely due to fear of political retribution," the memo said. "These examples are but the tip of the iceberg, snapshots and stories of those willing to share. The true impact of the senator's actions may not be known for years."
Meanwhile, 22 field officers who have been nominated for their first star will have to assume the duties of a general officer without getting the raise they earned, according to the memo. Another 20 officers who have been nominated for their second star will similarly have to do work above their paygrade without the corresponding raise.
In all, according to the memo, the hold is snaring 139 nominees for one star, 70 nominees for two stars, 54 nominees for three stars, and 10 nominees for four stars.
The missive comes as Democrats and Pentagon officials have been working to raise pressure on Tuberville, of Alabama, to end his six-month hold before the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is legally required to retire at the end of the month.
Since late February, Tuberville has maintained what's known as a hold on all nominees for promotion to one-star general and admiral and above over his opposition to the Pentagon policy. He has vowed not to lift the hold until the Pentagon reverses its abortion policy or Congress enshrines the policy into law.
A hold cannot prevent the Senate from confirming nominees, but it does require the chamber to take lengthy individual roll call votes on nominees it would otherwise quickly confirm in batches with voice votes.
With 273 nominees officially caught in Tuberville's hold right now, it would take approximately 689 hours and 20 minutes for the Senate to confirm them all, according to a Congressional Research Service report also released Tuesday by Senate Democrats.
That translates to 89 days if the Senate exclusively voted on the nominees for eight hours a day.
That estimate takes into account only nominees who have already been advanced by the Armed Services Committee. When adding in officers who have been nominated but not yet voted on by the committee, there are more than 300 generals and admirals awaiting Senate approval.
The standoff has already led to vacancies in top posts, including the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Democrats have signaled they are not planning to hold a roll call vote for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, meaning the most senior position in the military is also on track to sit vacant by the end of the month.
The Pentagon said this week that the Joint Chiefs vice chief would perform the duties in an acting capacity if the Senate cannot confirm a chief. But it also warned that the dual role would be very difficult for any one person to fill.
Tuberville has dismissed warnings from Pentagon officials and Democrats that his hold has harmed the military, instead blaming Democrats for the vacancies by not holding roll call votes on the nominees.
"If Democrats were actually worried about readiness or about military families, then we would be voting on these nominees," Tuberville said on the Senate floor Monday.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.