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Military spouses demanding Sen. Tuberville stop blocking military nominations

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A few days ago, Tonya Murphy found herself on Capitol Hill, helping to hand-deliver a letter. The letter called for an end to the impasse over military promotions. Hundreds of admiral and general nominees have been stalled since February as Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, stages a one-man protest to try to change Pentagon abortion policy. Now, this affects not just the nominees but their families, their spouses, including Tonya Murphy. She is married to a Navy commander. Murphy told me when they delivered the petition to senators last week, there were 500 signatures on it.

TONYA MURPHY: And it continues to grow. I think at last check, it had nearly 800 signatures on it. As military spouses, living with uncertainty is something that we have become very accustomed to. But there comes a point where it is a point of national defense and security when we're like, we're without service chiefs, right? That's really troublesome.

KELLY: When we spoke, I asked Murphy to elaborate on that, on what she sees as the threat to national security.

MURPHY: So right now the Marine Corps is without a confirmed commandant. The Army will be without their confirmed service chief in the next week, I believe. And then shortly after that, the Navy's service chief will also be moved to an acting position, not a confirmed position. While we have acting individuals in those roles, they don't have the same authority when it comes to making certain decisions. And so they're not able to utilize the full power and impact of that role. They're kind of cut off at the knees because they are an acting chief of whatever service that they're representing. That's the problem right there. It really puts us at a disadvantage, in a precarious position.

KELLY: Speak to me about timing now. This hold has been in effect by Senator Tuberville since February, but you and I are speaking now in August. There's a new school year coming right up. Military families are trying to get settled, those who may need to relocate. How does the timing play into this?

MURPHY: Oh, my gosh. So it is hard enough to move as a military family. We have done it nine - I'd say 9 1/2 times because this last move was kind of a little wonky. It's tough. And when you're trying to get your kids to their next duty station, get them enrolled in sports, get them involved in the things that they participate within their school, whether that be trying out for a team, joining a club, making the connections that they need in order for a place to feel like home, you're at a disadvantage when you're at a hold, right? So these families can move ahead of their service members if they have the funds to do that, to fund that. That's a huge financial hit for a military family.

KELLY: So I want to talk about how this whole fight over promotions is affecting your family. I know you're married to a Navy commander who's active duty. Your oldest son is a senior in high school. Is this affecting his thinking about whether he wants to follow into the military?

MURPHY: Absolutely, absolutely. So we all know that the cost of college is rising. And so ROTC is one of those options that he's kind of brought up periodically over the years as, like, maybe that's what I'll do. Maybe that'll be one of the ways that I help pay for college - is by doing ROTC, the ROTC program.

KELLY: The ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

MURPHY: Yeah, the Reserve Officer Training - the pipeline for commissioning through college. And as he's looking at it now, our son has dealt with, you know, 18 years of military life at this point. He has moved through a number of schools. We are now living apart from his father on the day-to-day basis, and we'll, when all is said and done, have done it for 18 months in order to make military life work with our real life. So there have been sacrifices made by all of us. And then when you look at this situation where promotions are being blocked and you're seeing this happening to the most senior officers in our forces, it really has him and others sitting back and thinking, so if they'll do that to the most senior, most important members of service, how - why - how and why are they going to look out for me if I'm a newly commissioned officer, if I'm a newly enlisted soldier or sailor? It gives - it's a moment of hesitation. It's a moment of really considering if the current cost of service is one that he is willing to pay.

KELLY: Yeah. So if you were back on Capitol Hill right now, if you could have five minutes one-on-one with Senator Tuberville and just say, I need you to listen to me, sir, what would you tell him?

MURPHY: That is a really great question. I think I would start with explaining that while in his - according to the things that he has said, he believes that this is a block that is only affecting these specific individuals. It is blind - it is ignorant to think that just by affecting these individuals, you're not affecting their families and you're not affecting their coworkers and you're not affecting every individual who's watching this happen. It is such a bigger issue than just these individuals. I understand that he has his policy disagreement with some of the legislation that the DOD has put out, and there are proper channels in order to address that and to move forward on that. Holding our military members hostage in order to achieve a goal is not the right answer. That is not how you support our troops. Putting them in situations in the current situation where they do not have confirmed leadership is not how you show support to our troops. If you're going to support our troops, support our troops. Do not use them as pawns.

KELLY: Tonya Murphy. She lives with her family in northern Virginia. She's married to a Navy commander and helped to hand-deliver a petition last week calling for an end to the block on officer promotions. Tonya Murphy, thank you.

MURPHY: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ED SHEERAN SONG, "EYES CLOSED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Tinbete Ermyas
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.