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Advisor to Chairman Says Holds on Military Confirmations Hurt Total Force

Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López said he faces a daily reminder of the risks posed by the ongoing delay of Senate confirmations for military nominees. 

A group of eight picture frames, three of which are empty, hang below a sign that reads Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Missing Pictures
Picture frames reserved for photos of the Army chief of staff, commandant of the Marine Corps, and chief of naval operations hang empty in a Pentagon hallway. The service leaders make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Aug. 14, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 230814-D-XI929-1004

Each morning when he walks the halls of the Pentagon before receiving his daily briefing alongside the Joint Chiefs chairman, Colón-López passes the portraits of the nation's most senior uniformed leaders entrusted with advising the president and secretary of defense on pressing matters of national security.  

He said the ritual has long given him confidence that the nation's fighting force is in good hands. 

Now, the empty frames that once held the portraits of the commandant of the Marine Corps, chief of staff of the Army, and chief of naval operations signify empty seats at the table where critical decisions are made. 

"For the first time in my tenure — in four years — I'm now walking past a wall that is empty of pictures," Colón-López said.  

"That is not right," he said. "We owe our people better. We need those leaders appointed so that they can take care of their services."  

As many as 301 general and flag officer nominations have been delayed in the Senate as a result of the blanket hold put in place in February by Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. 

Three service leaders are among those awaiting Senate confirmation. Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith last month took over as acting commandant of the Marine Corps. This month, Army Gen. Randy A. George took over as acting chief of staff of the Army, and Navy Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti became acting chief of naval operations. 

A man in uniform gestures with his hands as he speaks in front of a screen.
Lopez Briefing
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López records a public service announcement at the Pentagon, Aug. 17, 2020.
Photo By: Marvin Lynchard, DOD
VIRIN: 200817-D-FW736-1008D

It's the first time in decades that any one of the branches has been led by an acting service chief — and the first time in history that three have operated without confirmed leadership at the same time. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark A. Milley, the nation's top uniformed military adviser to the president, is slated to retire next month with no guarantee of a confirmed replacement.  

There has only been one other instance in history of a gap in having a confirmed chairman. That was in 1993 when Army Gen. John Shalikashvili assumed the chairmanship following Army Gen. Colin Powell's tenure.  

Shalikashvili's assumption was delayed for less than a month due to the timing of his replacement as NATO's supreme allied commander of Europe.  

Colón-López, who advises Milley on matters involving the health of the force and joint development for enlisted personnel, said negative impacts to the service members will grow if the holds continue. 

"Our people, from the most junior to the most senior, are very aware of what's going on," Colón-López said. "They're seeing it. They're feeling it. And they're wondering why." 

"Decisions are going to be stalled," he said. "Families are going to be put in hardship because of uncertainty." 

Most immediately, Pentagon officials have warned that the delayed appointments at the senior officer ranks will delay new assignments throughout the ranks. The cascading delays put families with school age children at a disadvantage if forced to move in the middle of a school year.  

Colón-López said thrusting the military in the middle of a political fight could also erode the drive within the ranks and among potential recruits required to serve the country as members of the nation's fighting force.  

Last month, in a brief phone call with Tuberville, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III underscored the risks to national security posed by the ongoing blanket hold. 

During the conversation, which took place at the secretary's request, Austin explained the impact the lawmaker's holds are having on military readiness and uncertainty within the force. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks from a stage.
Austin Remarks
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks at the relinquishment of office ceremony for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael M. Gilday at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., August 14, 2023. Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the vice chief of naval operations, will become the acting CNO. Her nomination to succeed Gilday is on hold in the Senate.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 230814-D-TT977-0150A

Austin expressed those same concerns earlier this week when Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday retired. 

"Smooth and swift" leadership transitions are "central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most lethal fighting force in history," he said.  

"This is unprecedented," he said. "It is unnecessary. And it is unsafe.  

"This sweeping hold is undermining America's military readiness," he said. "It's hindering our ability to retain our very best officers. And it's upending the lives of far too many American military families. Our troops deserve better. Our military families deserve better. Our allies and partners deserve better. And our national security deserves better."  

Colón-López echoed Austin's concerns. 

"In the military hierarchy, everybody answers to somebody," Colon-Lopez said. "Just to put this into context, imagine if the top leadership is gutted, and that guidance is not coming from the president to the secretary to the services to be able to execute the mission via the combatant commands? What happens when you don't have proper guidance coming from the top? 

"That's setting up an organization for failure," he said. "That is giving an advantage to the enemy. That is the impact that not having Joint Chiefs and a chairman confirmed has on the total force. The youngest person may not see it, but they will feel it."  

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