Gen. David Berger speaks in Quantico, Va., April 27, 2023.

Gen. David Berger speaks in Quantico, Va., April 27, 2023. U.S. Marine Corps / Sgt. Rachaelanne Woodward

'No Regrets': Gen. Berger Defends Force Design Decisions

The danger of not modernizing was “very clear, not just gut feel,” says outgoing commandant.

As Gen. David Berger looks back on his time as Marine commandant in preparation for retirement next month, he stands by his transformative modernization effort, but wishes critics would have trusted the Marine Corps to make the right choices about the future of the service.

“I have no regrets at all,” Berger said Wednesday.

But he said he wished those who loudly questioned the Force Design 2030 plan would have trusted the Marines and other defense officials who “had a lot of information and I'm pretty sure they're making great decisions.”

“I will have that degree of trust the day after I leave, because the person after me will be fully informed, and I'll be like one day out of date. I will trust them. That was kind of the surprising thing. Why did they doubt? Why did they lose trust in all the Marines that they served alongside of?”

Berger spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Modern Day Marine Expo in one of his last interviews before he leaves his position and retires on July 10. His expected successor, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith, is waiting for a vote on his nomination by the full Senate—meaning the Marine Corps will be without a Senate-confirmed commandant for the first time since 1859, reported.

Berger has faced criticism from former Marine officers about the service’s Force Design 2030 modernization effort. Wednesday, he again said he relies on the latest information and conversations with senior defense leaders to inform his decision making.

The danger of not changing the Marine Corps to prepare for future threats “was very clear, not just gut feel,” he said, noting that “every single exercise, every war game… the outcome in the future was not going to be good if we didn't make some kind of changes.”

Berger said he has a “moral imperative” as a service chief to ensure his force is ready today and for the years ahead.

“And if that means change, then you have a moral imperative to change. Critics have none of that. They can sit on the sidelines with no consequences,” he said. “But the next person after me will have the same responsibilities, if that makes sense, today and in the future.”

The initial Force Design 2030 efforts prioritized decisions on major equipment before people because changing gear takes the longest time, he said. With those equipment changes underway, the next commandant will be able to focus more on people and training, which Berger considers the most important part of Force Design. 

Next steps

Berger said he is taking the advice and experiences of other military retirees to heart and does not plan to jump into a new job right away. Instead, he’ll keep a list of offers to decide on later. But he said that teaching and coaching are some of his passions, and he would love to do them “in some form, no matter what.”

In the several months after his retirement, Berger plans to spend time with family, think, and write, he said. Though he hasn’t thought much about whether he would write a book, he said, he might consider it.

“But this is a different environment, during the Trump administration, COVID, force design. There's a bunch of things, a confluence of big things. Maybe capturing that might be fun to do. I don't know,” he said.