By: Cecil E. Roberts, International President, United Mine Workers of America and Chairman of the Union Veterans Council, AFL-CIO
When I was serving ten miles from the DMZ in Vietnam in 1968, it would not have occurred to me that a politician could single-handedly chop off the head of my chain of command. But that is exactly what Sen. Tommy Tuberville is doing. His actions to deny promotions to more than 250 generals, admirals and other top officers in our nation’s military are putting our armed forces at risk. And it is getting worse by the day.
Heads of services have not been confirmed. Brigadier and Lieutenant Generals remain in limbo. The Marine Corps has no Commandant. If our forces in Europe or in the South Pacific had to suddenly engage an enemy, hundreds of officers who would normally be making critical operational and logistical decisions would not be in place. Sen. Tuberville’s reckless actions would put tens of thousands of troops and sailors at an immediate disadvantage if the conflict was to come their way.
Our nation is not currently involved in large-scale hostile action today, and we should all be thankful for that. I have been in war. I have been shot at, and I have shot back. My prayer is that our nation’s young men and women never have to find themselves in that position ever again.
But if they do, they need to be ready. And without a functioning chain of command, the readiness of our armed forces is severely degraded. At a time when war is raging in Europe for the first time in nearly 80 years – a war that could rapidly spiral into a wider conflict – Sen. Tuberville’s actions put every soldier, every airman, every Marine, and every sailor at greater peril should they be called upon to defend our allies and our nation.
But of course, Sen. Tuberville has no idea about how our military works. He never came close to putting on our nation’s uniform. He does not understand what “chain of command” means in an army or navy. All he understands is that he has a unique power and he is going to use it, even though no Senator has ever used this power to put our nation’s security at risk.
I understand that Sen. Tuberville is acting in protest of an issue that he strongly believes should be addressed. I do not begrudge him his beliefs. But there are ways to make that point without putting our nation – and those who defend it – in a weaker position.
The notion that one person, elected by the people of just one state, can have the power to hold hostage our entire military and its chain of command is outrageous. The Senate must put an end to this charade and take steps to see that it can never happen again.
I still remember what it was like going out on night patrols from our position on top of a hill outside Da Nang, and wondering if my platoon would get back the next morning. I thank God there weren’t Senators like Tommy Tuberville around then. We may not have.
Cecil Edward Roberts, Jr., a sixth-generation coal miner and Vietnam Veteran, became President of the United Mine Workers (UMWA) of America on October 22, 1995, having served as Vice President of the union since December 1982.