Sen. Tommy Tuberville argues the Navy is 'too woke' because 'people are doing poems on aircraft carriers'

Tommy Tuberville
Sen. Tommy Tuberville.Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville says the US Navy is too woke, citing a poetry night on an aircraft carrier.

  • "It is absolutely insane the direction we're headed in our military," Tuberville told Fox News.

  • A top Navy official compared Tuberville's blockade of military promotions to Russian roulette.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville blasted the US Navy after one of its top officials took the Alabama Republican to task for his refusal to end his controversial blockade of hundreds of military promotions that has left unprecedented vacancies in the US armed forces.

"Secretary [Carlos] Del Toro of Navy, he needs to get to building ships, get to recruiting, and he needs to get wokeness out of our Navy," Tuberville said Wednesday evening on Fox News.  "We've got people doing poems on aircraft carriers over the loudspeaker. It is absolutely insane the direction we're headed in our military."

On CNN on Tuesday, Del Toro and the secretaries of the Army and Air Force, each the top civilian official in their service branch, criticized Tuberville for refusing to relent on his controversial hold on promotions that the Senate must approve. They echoed an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Monday.

"I would argue that Tommy Tuberville, what he's actually doing, is he's playing Russian roulette with the very lives of our service members by denying them the opportunity to have the most experienced combat leaders in those positions to lead them in times of peace and in times of combat," Del Toro told CNN.

Carlos Del Toro Jack Reed
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Sen. Jack Reed at an industry conference in Newport, Rhode Island on August 28, 2023.US Navy/MCS2 Theodore C. Lee

Tuberville has complained about a Pentagon policy allowing reimbursement for personnel who need to travel to access reproductive services, including abortions, but he has also used the controversy to further question the state of the military.

Tuberville's office said the poetry comment referred to an LGBTQ spoken-word night held aboard USS Gerald R. Ford, one of the nation's 11 aircraft carriers. At a hearing in April, Tuberville pressed Adm. Mike Gilday, then the Navy's highest-ranking officer, over the event.

"I'll tell you why I'm particularly proud of this sailor," Gilday said in response. "Her grandfather served during World War II, and he was gay, and he was ostracized in the very institution that she not only joined and is proud to be a part of, but she volunteered to deploy on Ford. And she'll likely deploy again next month when Ford goes back to sea."

While the Alabama senator has previously lambasted the poetry night, his comments on Wednesday appear to have struck a chord. Lawmakers, commentators, and others pointed out the long history of poetry by and about military personnel.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California pointed out that "In Flanders Fields," a famous poem about World War I, was written by a Canadian military officer.  Gen. George Patton, nicknamed "old blood and guts," penned more than 80 poems over his life. US sailors even have a tradition of writing their first deck log entry of the new year in verse, as detailed by The Washington Post.

Navy sailor poem amphibious assault ship
An aviation support equipment technician reads a poem about aviation support equipment technicians (AS) to celebrate 50 years of the AS rate aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on February 24, 2016.US Navy/MCS3 Jeanette Mullinax

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could break Tuberville's holds, but it would require a vote on each nominee, which would take months, according to Sen. Jack Reed, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Tuberville is a member.

Overcoming the holds that way also risks setting a precedent about treating previously uncontroversial military promotions like political nominations.

Democrats have said it's up to Republicans to convince Tuberville to relent. They've also continued their attacks over the effect Tuberville's holds are having on the military.

"It's crippling, and I really want people to understand that, basically, what Tuberville and others are saying is they don't believe in democracy," Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said at the Defense News Conference on Wednesday. "They believe that what they want should happen and if they don't get it, they're going to tear everything down."

Navy sailor poem Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier
A sailor reads a poem during a poetry slam aboard US Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on December 12, 2017.US Navy/MCS3 Jeff Sherman

Tuberville's holds have affected hundreds of military officers, including 86 in the US Navy and Navy Reserve. Among them is Adm. Lisa Franchetti, who President Joe Biden tapped to replace Gilday and who would be the first woman to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Franchetti is serving as both vice chief of naval operations, her previous position, and as acting chief of naval operations. Gen. Eric Smith, nominated to be Marine Corps commandant, is also serving as assistant commandant, his previous post, and as acting commandant. Neither can assume their new jobs until confirmed.

"It is not sustainable to do that," Smith said at the conference on Wednesday, describing it as "three" full-time jobs.

"The service chief of any service has two full-time jobs already. One is the service chief. The other is a member of the Joint Chiefs. Those are two very distinct and equally important duties, and as I've heard before from senior officers, you cannot get the Joint Chiefs part wrong, because that is to provide advice up through the secretary of defense to the president."

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