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Sen. Tuberville slammed poetry by US sailors that is a time-honored tradition

Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama at a hearing on Capitol Hill on February 17, 2022.
Tuberville has singlehandedly blocked hundreds of military promotions since March and refuses to let up unless the Pentagon reverses its abortion policy.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Sen. Tuberville called out "wokeness" in the Navy, saying people are reading "poems on aircraft carriers."

  • But the art form has been a long been a part of military service, especially for sailors.

  • Tuberville faces widespread criticism for blocking hundreds of promotions over the Pentagon's abortion policy.

As scrutiny of Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues over his single-handed blocking of hundreds of military promotions, the Alabama Republican fired back, calling out so-called "wokeness" in the US Navy he believes stems from sailors reading and writing poetry.

"We've got people doing poems on aircraft carriers over the loudspeaker. It is absolutely insane the direction that we're headed in our military, and we're headed downhill, not uphill," Tuberville said in a Fox News appearance Wednesday.

In reality, the art has flourished as a time-honored outlet for generations of troops far from home, and Tuberville, a former college football coach who has never served in the military, didn't bother to explain how poetry had disrupted the operations of sailors on duty, who perform the ship's essential work in shifts.

Also during his cable TV appearance, Tuberville also called out Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, saying Del Toro "needs to get to building ships, he needs to get to recruiting, and he needs to get wokeness out of our Navy."

 

Along with Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Del Toro has increasingly criticized Tuberville's unprecedented block of over 300 US military promotations since March, with the three writing an op-ed in The Washington Post earlier this week telling him to "Stop this dangerous hold on senior officers."

Other military officials, such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, have said the block is a threat to military readiness and national security. But the Republican senator from Alabama refuses to budge, doubling-down on protesting a Pentagon policy of reimbursing travel costs for service members who travel out of state for an abortion, which was implemented after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in July 2022.

Tuberville's comments on poetry and "wokeness" in the Navy come seemingly out of nowhere — especially considering the art form has a long history for sailors.

In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, a combined formation of aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 pass in formation above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). The formation included F/A-18 Hornets from the Black Aces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41, the Diamondbacks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 102, the Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115, the Royal Maces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27, the Vigilantes of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, and the Warhawks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97. The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) are conducting dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
Combined formation of aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 pass in formation above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).Lt. Steve Smith/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

One such tradition, with no clear origin, holds that the first deck-long entry of the new year may be written in verse. According to The Washington Post, its earliest mention dates to 1926, indicating it'd likely been practiced before then. The New Year's verse remained popular in decades after, through World War II and future naval conflicts, with American sailors across the world partaking in the practice. It became so popular, independent military publications held contests to pick the best poems.

And while it hasn't been as popular in recent years, the Navy's New Year's Deck Log Entry Contest has brought the tradition back into the spotlight, giving sailors a chance to reflect on the difficulties and beauties of service.

2021's winner from the USS Roosevelt mentioned COVID-19 and the tumult of the year before: "We made decent headway across the Atlantic / Until the pandemic had us turn back and be frantic / Our first stop was Yorktown, then we left the states for good / And crossed over to our new home, like we should / It would be a while, until we could really set foot on land / 186 days due to COVID and a beer in hand."

Last year's winner from the USS Lake Champlain spoke to homesickness: "3,000 miles across the mighty Pacific / Dreaming of home, how could we not miss it?" And this year's first place came from USS Bunker Hill, with the poet reflecting on the ship's brazen history dating back to 1986 before it goes out of commission this year.

Sailors assigned to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Albuquerque SSN 706 stand watch as the boat departs Diego Garcia. Image courtesy Chief Fire Control Technician Jeremy Gross/US Navy, 2015.
Sailors assigned to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Albuquerque SSN 706 stand watch as the boat departs Diego Garcia. Image courtesy Chief Fire Control Technician Jeremy Gross/US Navy, 2015.Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The deck-log tradition speaks to the power of poetry for those serving far from home, and poetry readings are often part of the talent shows and entertainment to boost a crew's morale as a deployment drags on. But it's not the only example of writing's enduring presence in service. After Tuberville's odd "wokeness" comment, plenty of former top officers, troops, and advocacy groups called him out for distracting from the real issues and not appearing to know what he's talking about.

 

 

"The bravest soldiers and pilots and sailors and Marines I've met rarely postured, and they did not scoff at romantic things," wrote Nolan Peterson, a former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. "They fought harder and loved harder than everyone else. They were the women and men most tightly bound to their humanity, no matter what they saw and did in war. They were the poets."

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