Air Force Gen. John Hyten was confirmed as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs on Thursday, capping months of controversy surrounding his promotion to the second-highest military post.
Hyten, the current head of U.S. Strategic Command and a 38-year officer who has served in numerous military leadership roles, was originally nominated by the White House for the post in April.
But allegations of sexual assault from a former aide delayed a final vote on his promotion for months, and drew final opposition from several senators on Thursday. The final 75-22 vote included opposition from nine women Democratic senators, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, the only Republican to oppose him.
None of the senators opposed to Hyten’s nomination spoke publicly on their views ahead of Thursday’s vote. Ernst has said she has concerns about toxic leadership issues within Hyten’s chain of command. Other senators have expressed unhappiness with the investigation into the allegations against Hyten.
His accuser — Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser — said that Hyten propositioned her on multiple occasions and tried to force himself on her at a hotel room two years ago. Hyten has flatly denied the allegations.
An Air Force investigation into the accusations uncovered no evidence of the events, and service officials have publicly said they believe Hyten’s denials over her accounts. A majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee also sided with Hyten, with several lawmakers accusing Spletstoser of lying and being a toxic leader with erratic behavior.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the committee investigation into the allegations was thorough, involving more than 1,000 pages of investigative records and interviews with at least 50 witnesses. He said he had full confidence in Hyten’s ability to serve in the prominent military role.
“We need strong innovative leadership, someone who understands strategy and competition, new war-fighting domains like space and a strong nuclear deterrent,” Inhofe said before the vote. “We need strategic guidance, someone with firsthand experience. To me there is no doubt that Gen. Hyten is the right man.”
But several outside advocates questioned what affect having an accused officer oversee service-wide issues of harassment and military discipline would have on service members’ morale.
In an opinion piece in Military Times last month, Spletstoser said she has been “publicly smeared” by military officials desperate to cover up problems in the ranks. In a statement this week, she said Hyten’s confirmation “has only served to demonstrate how unequipped the military still is to deal with sexual assault.”
The vice chairman post has been open since July, when Air Force Gen. Paul Selva retired from the role. Thursday’s vote also gives the military a permanent leader in each of its top four military and civilian leadership posts for the first time this year.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.