U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith. U.S. Marine Corps / Staff Sgt. Kelsey Dornfeld

Unable to issue formal guidance to his Marines, acting commandant writes a letter

The Senate hold on senior promotions has Gen. Eric Smith in a holding pattern.

Marines must stay disciplined, continue to modernize, and prepare for future conflict, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Eric Smith said in a letter to Marines on Thursday. 

Smith has been nominated to serve as Marine commandant, but is still waiting on a Senate vote for confirmation. As such, he can’t release true “planning guidance” to the force, but instead on Thursday released a four-page letter titled “Guidance to the force.”

“Until the Senate confirms our 39th commandant, this guidance will serve as our reference point. I cannot predict how long this process may take, but waiting is not an option for Marines, so we will move out as a team—just as we would in combat. We are always strongest as a team,” the letter begins.

The service is operating without a confirmed leader for the first time in more than 100 years, after the retirement of former Commandant Gen. David Berger in July. The gap is due to a hold on senior military nominations and promotions, which is affecting the next generation of service chiefs as well as roughly 300 other officers. 

The Thursday letter, which Smith called “intentionally broad,” is intended as a stopgap measure until Smith or someone else is confirmed as commandant.

In the letter, Smith highlights the Marine Corps’ identity as an expeditionary naval force, and said he expects the service to continue to meet standards. He said he owes Marines a balanced approach to quality-of-life areas like barracks and chow halls, as well as training and weapons. 

In return, he said,  “when decisions are made, we move out as one to attack our problems together. Those decisions will be made after hearing from Marines and their leadership. I encourage and will reward innovation which aims to capitalize on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing…We will continue to experiment and modernize, always with a focus on our requirement to win in combat.”

Smith outlines five “warfighting priorities” that include continuing Force Design modernization efforts, working closely with the Navy, remaining focused on the service’s requirement for 31 amphibious ships, improving quality of life for Marines and their families, and making it easier for Marines to transition between active duty and the reserves.

“Everything I have offered in this initial guidance is about warfighting and combat expertise. It is not meant as a lecture; it is simply setting expectations so that we use our limited time in peace to be prepared for the next fight,” Smith said.