President Joe Biden has submitted a nomination for a new Air Force vice chief of staff, but a backlog of 98 promotions caused by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s six-month blockade has hobbled the service from permanently filling top positions.
An appointment for Lt. Gen. James Slife to be vice chief was received in the Senate on Tuesday as the Air Force shouldered more delayed promotions than any other military service branch. Slife is currently the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations and was previously the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.
Tuberville has blocked any quick Senate confirmation of general and flag officers, throwing the highest ranks of the military into uncertainty, especially in the Air Force. With promotions on hold, Slife cannot replace Gen. David Allvin — who was nominated as the next chief of staff of the Air Force in July. Allvin cannot take over for Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown, the current chief who was tapped as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs in May.
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While Brown can technically continue to lead the Air Force through the summer of 2024 — he was confirmed to a four-year term in June 2020 — many officials hope to have him vacate his role sooner than that. Gen. Mark Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ends his term on Sept. 30, and the seat could remain vacant if Brown is not confirmed and promoted.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reportedly said on Wednesday that Democrats would not be holding an individual vote for the chairman of the joint chiefs position, saying it was up to Republicans to figure out how to end the holds.
“We’re not going to shift the burden to Democrats,” Schumer said, according to Politico.
Since late February, Tuberville has used a procedural tactic known as a hold to block confirmations of all general and flag officers over his opposition to the Pentagon’s policy of covering leave and travel expenses for service members who seek abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
In total, nearly 300 flag and general officers across the services are caught up in that delay, including Brown, Allvin and now Slife.
Slife is one of 98 Air Force officers whose promotions are affected, putting it above the Army, which has the next highest number at 91, the Pentagon told reporters on Wednesday. The Air Force has 73 active-duty officers and 25 reserve officers caught in Tuberville’s hold.
The Navy has 86 promotions on hold and the Marine Corps has 18, according to the Pentagon figures. Additionally, eight Space Force officer promotions are being delayed.
Slife was commissioned through the ROTC program at Auburn University where he graduated in 1989, according to his service biography.
He “spent the majority of his career in special operations aviation assignments,” garnering more than 3,000 flight hours with aircraft such as the MH-53 search-and-rescue helicopter and the unmanned MQ-1 Predator.
Slife was the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command out of Hurlburt Field, Florida, from June 2019 to December 2022.
He was the commander when the service’s fleet of CV-22 Ospreys were grounded in mid-August 2022 due to a potentially deadly mechanical issue known as a hard clutch engagement. One such aircraft was stranded on a remote nature preserve in Norway because of the flaw.
— Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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