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Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Christopher Grady Alex Wong/Getty Images

(LifeSiteNews) — As a military officer from the state of Alabama, the controversy surrounding Senator Tommy Tuberville has provided particular intrigue. Senator Tuberville slowed the flag and general officer promotion process and contributed to a hold on the promotions of over 300 admirals and generals.

The three political appointees serving as the nation’s secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force wrote a joint opinion piece to decry Senator Tuberville’s actions as detrimental to national security. More recently, uniformed officers at the highest levels are now weighing in. These leaders claim that, in addition to national security concerns, the hold is damaging military personnel and their families. 

Not everyone in the military agrees with the service secretaries or these publicly vocal admirals and generals. While the politics surrounding the situation are rightly the responsibility of others, it is past time to publish an analysis that focuses on actual warfighters and the public trust at stake.

Sacred trust 

There is no more important value to building an effective fighting force than trust. In a publication to the Joint Force while serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under President Barack Obama, General Martin Dempsey reflected on the sacrifices made by American service members during more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He unequivocally stated that the “sacred element of trust enabled them [service members] to persevere.” What was once sacred, however, is apparently no longer a priority.  

The ways in which our senior military leaders betrayed the trust of service members and the American people are both numerous and sordid. In nearly every major case, senior leaders circled the wagons to protect themselves and the institutions they led rather than holding individual leaders accountable. Below are three of the most public examples of betrayal that led to the current lack of trust and credibility.  

  • The Global War on Terror was fought for more than two decades with no clear strategic objectives or victory criteria. More than 7,000 service members paid with their lives for a war with no path to victory. No military leaders were held accountable. 
  • The withdrawal from Afghanistan was an embarrassing debacle in which senior military leaders did not properly plan the withdrawal nor prioritize American interests or American lives. Ultimately, 13 service members died unnecessarily during the withdrawal, and our leaders left over $7 billion worth of military equipment to our adversaries. No military leaders were held accountable. 
  • Military leaders broke the law and violated the constitutional rights of individual service members during the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Ultimately, over 8,400 service members were involuntarily discharged, many with severe charges of misconduct on their records and many with Other Than Honorable (OTH) service characterizations. No military leaders were held accountable. 

Even if military leaders find a way to convince themselves that they did not break the law or violate the Constitution during the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, tens of thousands of service members were convinced otherwise. In an effort to protect themselves and fight for their individual constitutional rights, service members launched nearly 40 lawsuits against the DoD and their military leadership.  

At the risk of emphasizing the obvious, this is not a sign of a healthy and trusting force. Nor it is a sign that military leaders have any credibility with a significant portion of that force. To make matters worse, all of these betrayals were observed closely by the entire U.S. military and the American people. 

The abandonment of warfighting families 

In their joint opinion piece, the service secretaries discuss the burden placed on many of the admirals and generals who must now hold two positions. They state that some of these officers “are being forced to endure costly separations from their families – a painful experience they have come to know from nearly 20 years of deployments to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.” This statement must have been incredibly infuriating for the more than 7,000 families who endured a tragic wartime loss resulting in permanent separation from their loved ones.

Where was the joint statement from the service secretaries calling for an early end to what became a meaningless war? Where was the full media blitz from these service secretaries demanding accountability for the loss of 13 service members and $7 billion of equipment during the botched Afghanistan withdrawal? 

The families and friends of those lost during the Global War on Terror feel betrayed. They are joined in these feelings by the 8,400 service members who were unceremoniously kicked out for declining an emergency COVID-19 vaccine. Thousands of those discharged were left with records of severe misconduct, and many were given Other Than Honorable (OTH) characterizations of service, making it very difficult to secure meaningful employment.

Instead of correcting these critical betrayals, the three service secretaries have engineered a media blitz focused exclusively on the highest level brass and their next promotions.

A recruiting crisis come home to roost 

In their September 4, 2023, op-ed, the service secretaries also noted that a number of admirals and generals were incurring unforeseen expenses and financial stress due to not getting their next promotion. The secretaries even stated that some of these leaders “have had to relocate their families or unexpectedly maintain two residences.” This is an unconscionable statement to make only a few months after having fired thousands of junior service members from their jobs and forcing them to relocate their families on short notice to find work elsewhere. None of these junior service members had two residences. Some of these now former military families ended up with no residences.

In just one of many examples, an unvaccinated MQ-9 drone pilot named Ben was fired for standing up for his constitutional rights. After being fired, he was unable show proof of income to rent an apartment, so he ended up living out of a vehicle with his wife and children. He was eventually able to move into an old and barely livable RV. He and his family lived out of the RV for nearly a year while he worked a string of construction jobs. Ben and thousands like him deserved better and are proof positive that the DoD will ignore the burdens placed on junior service members.

Instead of attempting to repair the recruiting damage caused by these discharges, our admirals and generals want to focus all their attention on their peers’ promotions instead. Admiral Christopher Grady, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also piled on to denounce the promotion hold. Admiral Grady complained that “folks can’t plan their moves or get their kids in school.” He went on to say that “there is a cumulative cost to this, and we need to be very attuned to that.”

Regardless of the minuscule number of admirals and generals who may still have kids in school, Admiral Grady appears to be focused on all the wrong things. Why is Admiral Grady not “attuned” to the lost trust resulting from the discrimination he perpetrated against service members when he banned indoor religious services?

The Navy was not the only service that egregiously violated constitutional rights. Why is Admiral Grady not “attuned” to these other violations either? In one of numerous examples, Army personnel who exercised their First Amendment right to decline the COVID-19 vaccine were forced to wear red armbands to denote their unvaccinated status to others. This was a clear violation of their First Amendment rights and HIPAA medical privacy laws.

The recent promotion hold op-ed was not the first time that the service secretaries came together to write an opinion piece. Apparently unaware that their own policies and lack of accountability were largely to blame for the recruiting crisis, they wrote an op-ed a year earlier focused on recruiting.

In that October 24, 2022, article, the service secretaries extolled the virtues of enlisting in the U.S. military, while attempting to exhibit the many benefits available to those that join. They also promised an “unprecedented commitment to making the military a place where all who serve can be free from harassment, discrimination or abuse.” 

Ironically, just a month before that article, a black Navy SEAL named Daniel had committed suicide following significant harassment, discrimination, and abuse perpetrated by his chain of command. Daniel had declined the COVID-19 vaccine and was attempting to exit the service.

Rather than help Daniel leave the service, his chain of command locked him down, isolated him from others, removed his access to SEAL Team spaces, denied him warfighter training opportunities, and forced him to do menial labor. The last official duty Daniel performed for his country before he died was basic lawn care maintenance outside the command headquarters he was no longer permitted to enter. 

Daniel’s story is one of unconscionable tragedy and irreparable harm. Unfortunately, his story is just one of many. During the pandemic, 1,460 service members lost their lives to suicide, while only 96 service member deaths were allegedly attributed to the virus. These stories of tragedy and harm must be told so that they will never be repeated.

The time has come for accountability 

Those responsible must be held accountable. Until that happens, a significant number of service members will no longer trust our uniformed and civilian leaders to have the moral courage to do the right thing, to follow the law, or to stand up for service members’ constitutional rights.

Historical precedence has now also demonstrated to the American people that our current military leaders will be frivolous with the lives of their sons and daughters. In opposition to the promotion holds, Air Force General Mark Kelly stated that “we’re on the fringe of losing a generation of champions.” Tragically, General Kelly is correct, although not for the reasons he thinks.

The time is past due when our military leaders are held accountable for their failures and their bad policy decisions. The American people now know that our military leaders will not hold themselves accountable. The current recruiting crisis is the natural consequence.

American citizens are now taking the matter into their own hands by finding greener pastures elsewhere where their tax dollars will not be wasted frivolously, their constitutional rights will not be trampled, and their lives will not be carelessly spent in meaningless rivers of blood on some foreign frontier. 

Robert A. Green Jr. is an active duty Navy Commander and the author of Defending the Constitution behind Enemy Lines. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the DoD or the U.S. Navy.