Army chief James McConville retires as Tuberville hold snarls the Pentagon’s top ranks

“The failure to confirm our superbly qualified senior uniformed leaders undermines our military readiness,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the changeover ceremony at an Army installation just outside Washington on an uncharacteristically cool and rainy morning. “It undermines our retention of some of our very best officers. And it is upending the lives of far too many of their spouses, children and loved ones.”

The Republican senator placed the procedural hold on all senior military nominations in protest of the Pentagon’s new policy of reimbursing troops who travel to seek abortions.

As of Friday, there were 301 senior military officers caught up in Tuberville’s hold, ranging from the nominees to lead the Army, Marines, Navy to the next chair of the Joint Chiefs. The blockade is also holding up command changes for the 5th and 7th fleets, which run naval operations in the Middle East and Pacific, and the next leaders of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.

In the 120 years since the Army chief of staff position was created, there has been only one time — a three-month period in 1972 — when a general performed the role without Senate confirmation.

“Let me be clear,” Austin said, “in our dangerous world, the security of the United States demands orderly and prompt transitions of our confirmed military leaders.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said “we need the Senate to act, not only on [George’s] nomination, but also on the over 300 other general and flag officers across the armed services, whose careers and lives are now in limbo because of this unprecedented hold.

“We need to end all of this uncertainty for our military families,” she said.

Getting those officers in place, and allowing the leaders already filling those roles to retire or move on to their next jobs is “vital for our global leadership — and for the trust and confidence of our outstanding network of allies and partners,” Austin added.

George, who has also been nominated by President Joe Biden to succeed McConville, will be forced to do the job as a placeholder until all the sides reach an agreement. That process can’t resume until the Senate comes back into session in September.

The Marine Corps is already working under the temporary leadership of Gen. Eric Smith, the service’s No. 2 officer who was nominated to replace Commandant Gen. David Berger, who retired in July. As a result, Smith has to do both jobs.

“You know, it’s been more than a century since the U.S. Marine Corps has operated without a Senate-confirmed commandant,” Austin said at the handover ceremony last month. “Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States.”

In the coming days, current Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday will relinquish command, handing off to Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the vice chief of naval operations, who has also been nominated to replace him.

Tuberville has spoken to Austin several times about the hold, but he has also voiced frustration that Biden has yet to reach out to discuss the matter. Democrats, meanwhile, say it’s the job of Republicans — some of whom disagree with Tuberville’s hold — to bring him in line.

The senator’s procedural holds mean that senior officers across the military are unable to move their families to their new assignments, and in many cases are losing out on the pay raises that promotions entail.

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