Two weeks after Lloyd Austin was sworn in as defense secretary in January 2021, he released a memo to his bureau’s senior leadership. Within sixty days, the memo ordered, commanding officers and supervisors were to conduct a one-day stand-down “to address extremism in the ranks.”
“We will not tolerate,” Austin said, “actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies.”
One of the commander’s fundamental principles, according to an October 2022 memo, is “ensuring access to reproductive care.” The memo framed itself as a post hoc amicus brief for Dobbs, complete with an appeal to “the complexity and the uncertainty that [servicemembers] now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion services.”
Austin’s blank check for servicemember abortion reimbursements put a target on his back for the senior senator from Alabama, Tommy Tuberville. In December 2022, the former Auburn football coach sent a letter to the secretary, in which he claimed that the proposed policy change would be illegal (federal law restricts Pentagon abortion funds to cases of rape and incest) and promised in an accompanying tweet: “I will hold him accountable.”
Since then, the senator has committed a grave sin: He has actually held his second-branch colleague accountable. In February, Tuberville announced he would place a hold on all nominations until the issue is resolved.
And the secretary deserves it. His memo did not indicate any prohibition on Pentagon-funded abortions based on the time of gestation; that sort of bold behavior demands a bold response.
While most non-cabinet positions fly by the attention of the public eye, the senator’s hold has also introduced the novel, if not accidental, opportunity for the upper chamber to consider the quality of the candidates.
The nominee who has garnered the most attention is Charles Brown Jr., the potential replacement for the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, whose tenure has long been thoughtfully examined in these pages. Under Brown’s tenure as chief of staff of the Air Force, a position that he still holds, cadets were encouraged to tune their gender sensitivity by using terms such as “parents” or “caregivers” as opposed to “mom and dad.”
The man slotted to become the principal advisor to the president on military matters said in a 2020 interview that he “hire[s] for diversity.”
If Biden’s nominees overcome Tuberville’s hold, the Army is set to welcome a cadre of officials in full support of the DEI regime. The nominated chief of staff, Randy George, for example, told the military newspaper Stars and Stripes that results from an Army survey released in February that reported 13 percent of respondents believe “women and racial and ethnic minorities are discriminated against in the service…that perception necessitates the diversity and inclusion training that many Republican lawmakers deride as unnecessary liberal initiatives that weaken the force.”
“[It’s] part of building a cohesive team,” he said, “and bringing everybody together.”
Anthony Hale, nominated for promotion to lieutenant general, was concerned by “a stark lack of diversity among officers currently serving in the military intelligence career field.” Hale “wanted to make a personal difference.” Andrew Rohling, also up for a lieutenant general promotion, reportedly met with a group of bipartisan senators in July, encouraging them to break Tuberville’s hold and calling his tactic “reprehensible, irresponsible, and dangerous.”
The Navy is another branch hoping to push the DEI regime. Lisa Franchetti, the nominee for chief of Naval Operations. Franchetti was lauded in March by Shelly O’Neill Stoneman, former chair of the Defense Department’s advisory committee on women in the services and now a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin. Stoneman said she was “thrilled to have allies like Admiral Franchetti prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the Navy.”
At the Navy’s second annual DEI summit, Franchetti mixed metaphors to claim the summit’s “theme of allyship is a key enabler for building inclusive teams.”
Craig Clapperton, nominated for reappointment to vice admiral and assignment as U.S. Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels. When he was the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, he spoke about the importance of LGBT celebration at a 2018 event. (He’s also the gentleman featured here, slicing into a giant rainbow cake at a 2016 event.)
One of the commander’s colleagues, Brendan McLane, nominated for promotion to vice admiral, spoke at the first-ever Naval Surface Force Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium last April. With evangelical zeal, he opened the event encouraging the sailors in attendance to “spread the word. This is just like maintenance; it needs to be done 100% of the time.”
But the DEI interest of Army and Navy nominees might be superseded by that of the Air Force. Benjamin Jonsson, nominated for promotion to brigadier general, wrote an op-ed in the Air Force Times in July 2020 titled, “Dear white colonel…we must address our blind spots around race.”
Jonsson’s tone echoes the earnestness of a middle school persuasive essay, complete with frequent repetition of the phrase “Dear white colonel,” and an intemperate reference to the summer’s hottest read: “Start by developing a game plan. A good primer is to read or listen to the short book, ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’ by Robin DiAngelo.”
Jonsson’s colleague Scott Cain, nominated for promotion to major general, was brought in as an expert at Eglin Air Force Base’s 2022 panel on “Black Health and Wellness.” Cain implored, “I want to see evidence that the fact we are all talking about those subjects more leads to change.”
Though some senators have jumped behind Tuberville’s stand, reporting indicates that his own party’s leadership is upset with his strategy. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed in May that he does not support Tuberville: “But as to why, you’ll have to ask Sen. Tuberville,” said McConnell.
A spokesman for Tuberville told The American Conservative that the senator’s “position on the abortion policy has not changed. However, he reserves the right to oppose—and hold—individual nominees in addition on the basis of merit.”
Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, chair of the Armed Services Committee, told Politico in May, “I think there’s a vital reason to put these officers in place.” And Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy followed suit, saying, “I understand the senator’s concern, but it’s a dangerous world right now, and we want to make sure that we’re not sacrificing readiness.”
The lack of unanimous support that Tuberville has received from his Republican colleagues has been overcome by persistent encouragement from outside groups. Wade Miller, executive director of Citizens for Renewing America and a former Marine, told TAC, “These military officers are…pushing race-based and sex-based promotion, which is a violation of federal law. They should be court-martialed – certainly not promoted.”
Citizens for Renewing America has been one group at the center of maintaining Tuberville’s hold. Another such group is the American Military Project at the Claremont Institute. Will Thibeau, the project’s director, said, “This is about more than DEI or other cultural issues.” Thibeau continued, “As the recruiting crisis worsens, and Americans grow increasingly distrustful of military leaders, we have to ask ourselves if the military is an institution reliable enough to defend the nation.”
Retired colonel and frequent TAC contributor Douglas Macgregor expressed support for the senator and contextualized the military’s ultimate objective: “The United States Armed Forces are in the business of being ready to deploy and fight as required in defense of the United States.”
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“The focus on DEI,” Macgregor said, “is ultimately antithetical to the interests of military readiness and military power in general.”
The rhetoric of these officers would be tame at a public research university. While race-obsessed professors threaten the vitality of the nation, race-obsessed military generals threaten her very existence. Lloyd Austin took it one step too far with his insistence on Pentagon-funded abortions, and Tuberville courageously took the mantle from his weaker colleagues.
Hold the line, coach.