Our military is being held as political hostages

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Imagine this: One person wielding arbitrary power over 1.5 million military family members. But surprise, it’s not the president — it’s Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

His move to block more than 250 officer promotions not only robs the military of valuable talent, it’s left two military branches leaderless: the Marines, without an official chief for the first time in 164 years, and the Army. The consequences are far-reaching, impacting those who defend our freedoms.

But don’t take it from just me. “We will lose talent because of those challenges,” Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. told Congress about the hold’s impact on military families. He’s slated to be our next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — if and only if Tuberville’s hold lifts.

But that’s just one takeaway and overlooks a more critical point. Spouses and families of service members play a significant role in their partners’ service and decisionmaking, and Sen. Tuberville’s promotion blockade will have a dire ripple effect on our nation’s recruitment and retention crisis.

In fact just 37 percent of active-duty families are likely to recommend military service, down from 55 percent less than a decade ago. People tell us they love military service, but lifestyle challenges and lack of trust for civilian leadership undermine their willingness to recommend it to others. 

As co-founder of Blue Star Families, I’ve heard poignant stories from spouses about the impact of these holds. Some shared how their Air Force husbands may be forced to retire if they cannot rank up in time, potentially derailing their career goals and taking them away from the service they love. Another spouse from North Carolina mentioned how her husband in the Navy had his promotion announced in June but could face a delay of 15 months due to promotions starting in the next fiscal year. The direct costs for these families are enormous, with each likely losing out on tens of thousands of dollars.

Sadly, they are not alone. We launched a survey to gather information about the impact of the promotion block, expecting a few hundred people to respond. Within a few days we had 1,145 respondents, a testament to the pain of promotion inaction. Eighty percent of currently serving officer family respondents (from all officer ranks) were hurt in some way by the promotion block. And those not directly impacted recounted stories of the ripple effects the block was having on friends, colleagues and neighbors. 

Military life is already full of uncertainty. It undermines morale and readiness to pile on with this promotion block. Right now military families may not move in time for a child to try out for sports or for a spouse to accept a job, or may make the financial gamble to put down a security deposit for a house knowing they may not move. It’s no surprise our survey respondents were discouraged, angry and scared.

As someone whose husband was in the Marine Corps for 30 years and went on multiple combat deployments, these reactions hit much too close to home. Our family navigated nine moves in 16 years, each bringing real challenges — emotionally, financially and professionally. Uprooting our lives, me losing my job, our kids changing schools and adapting to new surroundings were part of the journey to make each community we lived in feel like home, while my husband helped keep Americans safe in their homes.

Sen. Tuberville’s promotion block exacerbates the challenging lives of those who chose to serve, making already existing issues like under-employment, food insecurity and the dislocation of moves — i.e., temporary homelessness — worse. It makes us feel that we are on the tip end of a whip, being manipulated for reasons unattached to anything we can control.

In Congress, political grandstanding is nothing new, but when it comes to military promotions, Senate approval is usually and ought to be bipartisan and routine. Having a commandant for the Marine Corps, promoting senior leaders — these are all essential to good order and discipline. Sen. Tuberville maintains that his hold does not hurt readiness or recruiting, but military recruitment is already trending down, and using our armed forces as collateral in partisan fights will only accelerate that trend. 

As recently as seven months ago, Sen. Tuberville boasted of his support for the military and his efforts to improve recruitment. I am sure he means what he says. So I am asking him, and the families who serve are asking him, to think again about the effect he is having on the morale of the military and of the families who are truly a component of our force today.

There are 8,712 active-duty military members in his home state and about 26,000 military members and families in his state alone, and hundreds of thousands more across the country. It’s time to release the hostages.

Kathy Roth-Douquet is the co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Families.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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