At Hearing, Air Force Secretary Warns of “Negative Impacts” of Nominations Holds on Military Families, Retention
Warren: “This actively hurts our ability to respond quickly to threats around the world and is really painful for military families who have already been called on to give so much.”
Washington, D.C. — At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, questioned General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Frank Kendall III, Secretary of the Air Force, on the risks to national security and readiness posed by Senate Republican holds on nearly 200 high level military officer nominees. General Brown and Secretary Kendall also spoke to the effects these holds have on retention across the services and the burden they pose on military families.
“One of the things that motivates our people in terms of retention or not, is how they feel that their families are being treated. Things like child care, and education, and health care are all very important factors,” Secretary Kendall said. “And we ask our military families to move multiple times during their career. It’s something that they accept, but when their planning for that is disrupted, it has a very negative impact and it definitely impacts on retention as well.”
Senator Tuberville placed a hold on all senior military nominees in opposition to the Department of Defense issuing a policy to allow service members and their families to travel to access abortion and reproductive care. Last month, Senator Warren delivered remarks and asked for 35 unanimous consent requests on the Senate floor calling for the confirmation of 184 top-level military nominations that Republicans, led by Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), have been blocking. She also sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III asking for more information on the readiness and national security impacts of these holds.
Transcript: Hearings to examine the posture of the Department of the Air Force in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2024 and the Future Years Defense Program
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Tuesday, May 2, 2023
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses for your service. We often talk about the role of bombers and fighter jets in national security, but our greatest strength as our nation is our people.
The Senate approves thousands of military promotions every year, and typically this vote is a formality. But the Senator from Alabama has weaponized a policy disagreement about abortion to politicize the military and place holds on all – all – military nominations. This brings the careers of nearly 200 officers, people who have served their country for decades, to a screeching halt.
General Brown, can you explain what steps does a colonel or brigadier general have to go through before the President sends a promotion over to the Senate for approval?
General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., U.S. Air Force: Well, each one of those offers goes through a thorough review that actually starts initially in the Department of the Air Force, where we ensure there’s no adverse information. That same process gets repeated through the Joint Staff to the office of the Secretary of Defense over at the White House before that member's record comes and is delivered to the Senate for promotion. So it takes several months before it actually gets here to the Senate.
Senator Warren: Okay, so you’re not just sending these promotions over on a whim, look like a good idea. I take it that these individuals are being recommended for a higher rank because they are our military’s best, and they’ve proven themselves to the highest degree. Is that fair?
General Brown: It does. It also shows that they have future potential.
Senator Warren: Future potential as well. Now, recruitment has been a challenge for most of the military services, but retention levels have stayed quite high. The Air Force currently retains about 90% of its people at critical decision points. That means that they complete a commitment and the vast majority are choosing to re-enlist and stay with the Air Force. That’s really good news.
Secretary Kendall, does it worry you that if our men and women in uniform see that their promotions can get held up indefinitely because one senator has an issue with one DoD policy, that might hurt your ability to retain the best and the most qualified people in the Air Force?
Frank Kendall III, Secretary of the Air Force: Senator Warren, it does have an impact, definitely. I also want to mention it has an impact on families, too. We generally rotate people through the summer months and people need to plan for that. They have to plan to get their children into schools, where they’re going to be established, and in their new homes so there’s a very personal toll this takes as well. One of the things that motivates our people in terms of retention or not, is how they feel that their families are being treated. Things like child care, and education, and health care are all very important factors. And we ask our military families to move multiple times during their career. It’s something that they accept, but when their planning for that is disrupted, it has a very negative impact and it definitely impacts on retention as well.
Senator Warren: And do you think these families want to be made a political football?
Secretary Kendall: I know that they do not.
Senator Warren: So Secretary Kendall, what is the national security impact of these holds for the Air Force?
Secretary Kendall: The biggest impact is that people who should be coming into leadership roles don’t arrive on time so someone who’s already there has to step up, either someone – Generally people, if they’re going to retire, they’re still going to retire. So a junior person will step up and be acting for a period of time. Those people are limited in what they can do. They generally are not going to make any major initiatives or make any major changes because they know they’re not going to be there very long. They expect that they’ll be replaced very shortly. So they’ll keep the trains running, but they’re not going to move the organization forward as much as they might be otherwise.
Senator Warren: The senator from Alabama is holding up promotions across all of the services. But I took a look at the Air Force nominees in particular, and one thing that was really striking to me is that the vast majority of them studied at the Air War College in Alabama. The state of Alabama has invested a lot in these leaders and the Senator from Alabama doesn’t seem to care about that.
Secretary Kendall, unlike many of the other services, the Space Force is meeting its recruiting goals. The Space Force is obviously still very young. These are defining years for your service. What are the readiness impacts of these holds on Space Force?
Secretary Kendall: I’m not aware of any general officers that are being held for the Space Force at this time. But the same generic impact – what happened there is what happened on the Air Force. The Space Force is meeting its recruiting goals because a) it’s an exciting, new opportunity for people and it is relatively small and there’s relatively modest numbers that it’s seeking.
Senator Warren: Thank you very much. Holding up the promotions of every single senior military nominee isn’t democracy; it’s extortion, and this kind of extortion has serious consequences for our national defense. This actively hurts our ability to respond quickly to threats around the world and, as you point out Secretary Kendall, this is really painful for military families who have already been called on to give so much. We need to lift these holds. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
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