An attorney representing an anonymous group of Army O-5s is demanding that a lawmaker —a retired Army O-5 — lift her hold on their promotions to colonel.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has threatened to bar the promotions of more than 1,100 field-grade officers until she gets confirmation from Defense Secretary Mark Esper that his department did not meddle in the promotion chances of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former member of the National Security Council who testified during President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings.

“I am writing to you to ask that you to reverse course on using them and their families as hostages in a political dispute between you and the President which does not, and should not, involve them,” Timothy Parlatore, who represents retired Chief Special Warfare Operator Eddie Gallagher, wrote in the letter. “The U.S. military is rightly an apolitical institution and elected officials on both sides of the political aisle must ensure that they are not dragging our military members into the middle of a partisan fight.”

Parlatore sent the letter to Duckworth’s office just after midnight Monday, he confirmed to Military Times.

Because of her actions, he wrote, his clients are having their own careers hamstrung.

“As I write this letter, selection boards for command and assignment to key positions are passing my clients by because they do not know whether they are eligible. Significant career progression opportunities that require the officer to be promotable are being missed,” he wrote. “Military moves are disrupted, throwing families into disarray. In some cases, prospects of future promotion to the general officer ranks are being derailed.”

On the other hand, Duckworth herself is not the deciding vote in these promotions. The Senate has been in recess since July 4, but could approve the promotions with a simple majority when it reconvenes next week.

“It should not be difficult for Secretary Esper to confirm that he did not interfere in routine military promotions, something that would threaten the merit-based foundation of our Armed Forces, enable Donald Trump’s efforts to politicize our military and put all officers’ careers at risk of being derailed,” Duckworth spokesman Ben Garmisa told Military Times in a statement.

Vindman announced Wednesday that he had dropped retirement papers rather than be caught in the middle of a struggle between the Army and the Trump administration over his promotion. Reports had indicated that Trump intended to block his career advancement as revenge for testifying during the president’s impeachment trial.

“...Vindman is retiring today after it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited,” his attorney, David Pressman, wrote in a release.

The decision came after Duckworth announced July 2 that she would hold up senate confirmation of O-6 promotions unless the Defense Department verified for her whether Vindman’s name is on the list.

A spokeswoman for Vindman declined to comment on Parlatore’s letter.

Following the announcement of his retirement, Duckworth stuck to her plan.

“Lt. Col. Vindman’s decision to retire puts the spotlight on Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s failure to protect a decorated combat Veteran against a vindictive Commander in Chief,” she said in a release. “Secretary Esper’s failure to protect his troops sets a new, dark precedent that any Commander in Chief can interfere with routine merit-based military promotions to carry out personal vendettas and retaliation against military officers who follow duly-authorized subpoenas while upholding their oath of office and core principles of service.”

A defense official told multiple outlets Wednesday that Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had already approved Vindman’s promotion.

“Obviously, this demand would have been better to make before the boards had met, unless you are asking the Army to either go back and redo the board or add a name to the list who may have been rejected by the competitive board,” Parlatore wrote in his letter. “However, this demand ignores the basic truth about how military promotions work.”

Parlatore goes on to make the case that Vindman’s chances of promotion at this stage were slim-to-none, as it was his third look for O-6, he wrote.

“Statistically, it is extremely unlikely that he was selected after being passed over for his first two looks,” he said, in 2018 and 2019, before his involvement with Trump’s impeachment.

A source familiar with Vindman’s service record refuted that claim.

“...Vindman has been considered for primary zone promotion to colonel once and only once — that was this year,” the source said. “He has never been ‘passed over’ for primary zone promotion to colonel or any other rank for that matter.”

Indeed, Vindman had been selected to attend the Army War College, suggesting the service intended to promote him to colonel and retain him in order to earn a graduate degree and continue his service post-education.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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