“When you start politicizing how to promote, I think we’re stepping into the wrong territory,” said Greg Black, who served in the Air Force for 25 years.
Black voted for Tuberville in 2020, but says he can’t back him again if he keeps it up.
“I have to say no,” Black said.
There are now more than 250 military nominations being slow-walked in the Senate, a tactic that has drawn condemnation from colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Washington and is also leading some Republicans in the state who strongly back Tuberville’s position on abortion to wonder whether the fight could be too much of a gamble in a state with five military bases and 100,000 active duty military members.
“I am pro-life and I’m a conservative, but I really don’t believe he should hold up military promotions,” said Bobby Sparks. “I think there has to be a better way to change that policy.”
Gary Counts, another former service member who considers himself a Republican, argued, “I just don’t think that you would hold the national security hostage over an abortion issue.”
Alabama voted for Donald Trump by 26 points in the 2020 election and overwhelmingly elected Tuberville just a little over two years ago. But Tuberville’s fight is pitting two pillars of Republican orthodoxy right up against one another: abortion and the military, and in Alabama, the effect of Tuberville’s holds are still having a personal impact.
Redstone Arsenal, an army base in Huntsville, is awaiting the confirmation of a leader to head the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, but the confirmation of the nominee is among those being slow walked.
“Someone has given him bad advice. It affects everyone. It affects the nation, it affects every community like this,” said retired Military General Jim Rogers, who served as Redstone’s Senior Commander overseeing installation issues and coordinating with tenant organizations. “I am very concerned our senator is getting led down a path that he does not understand the full impact for the military, and I just recommend that he reconsider that.”
There’s nothing that Tuberville can do to block a nomination from ultimately getting approved if there is widespread support, but getting around Tuberville’s holds would require Senate leaders to burn up to months in the Senate to clear all the nominations.
Rogers also said the ricochet goes far beyond just the officers who are awaiting confirmation. Without promotions in the higher ranks, lower ranking officials are also caught up in the fray.
“He needs to step back now and say ‘I understand the implications,’ and we need to go forward,” Rogers said. “And we need to get these people in the right positions, because it’s a huge domino all the way down.”
Quan, who grew up in a military family, told CNN that her own brother is affected now because of the holds. She declined to give her full name out of concern that doing so could have an impact on her brother’s military career, but she said the uncertainty is daunting for men and women who are already sacrificing a lot to be in the military.
“He is very proud of his career in the military. But he was telling me that he’s still in limbo. He doesn’t know where he is going next. And so I can kind of hear in his voice that he would like to know more about where he is going,” she said. “Nobody wants that stress and that pressure of not knowing if you’re going to within the next couple of months.”
Kerry and Alex Anton moved more than a dozen times over the course of Kerry’s two decades in the army. They recently moved back to Alabama and while they don’t consider themselves Republicans, they argue Tuberville just doesn’t understand the nuanced experience of service men and women.
“I can’t figure out what his reasoning would be to essentially punish people that have no dog in the fight for his own agenda,” Kerry said. “I just retired from the army in March. I served 20 years so, yeah, it kind of rings close to home for me.”
But so far the Republican Party in the state is fully behind their senator. The state party is expected to vote in coming weeks on a resolution expressing support for Tuberville’s actions, and GOP State Chairman John Wahl told CNN he expects it will pass overwhelmingly.
“I’m looking at a US senator who wants to do a good job representing his constituents, who sees a flawed policy and is standing against it,” Wahl said of Tuberville’s fight.
Retired Col. James Henderson is introducing the resolution, saying it’s a thank you to the senator for representing the state’s values on abortion.
“I wanted him and the people of Alabama to know that we appreciate what he’s doing,” Henderson said.
Pushed on the fact that many Republicans in Washington want Tuberville to compromise, Henderson argued, “I’m certain that he would not compromise and nor do I think he should.”
Alabama has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country, outlawing the procedure except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger, and many Republican voters in the state relish Tuberville’s fight with the Biden administration over the Pentagon’s policy to reimburse travel for service men and women who leave the state to seek a procedure if it’s not allowed where they live.
“I think he’s doing what the state of Alabama voters want him to do,” said Kerry Holcombe, a GOP voter in the state. “I think that it’s one way that he can make the voice, his voice known and the voice of the people who are pro-life and don’t want their tax dollars going toward the funding of abortion.”