Marine Gen. Eric Smith

Marine Gen. Eric Smith U.S. Marine Corps / Sgt. Karen Amaro

Almost But Not Quite: Acting Commandant Will Face Limitations In Role

Gen. Eric Smith will have to juggle the Marine Corps’ top two positions when Gen. David Berger retires.

Gen. Eric Smith will have all the authorities of the leader of the Marine Corps when he steps in as acting commandant after Gen. David Berger retires July 10—except for an important few.

 “I can't live in the house, can't use a security detail. I cannot write a commandant’s planning guidance because I am not the commandant. That 39th commandant is to be determined by the Senate, whoever that may be,” the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps told reporters Thursday at the Modern Day Marine Expo in Washington.

Smith will step into the role of acting commandant while also being the presumptive replacement. President Joe Biden already tapped him for the role, and the Senate Armed Services Committee considered the nomination in a hearing earlier this month. However, the full Senate—which is in recess until the day Berger retires—must still vote on the appointment. The service chief position is the most senior role so far to be affected by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on senior military and civilian nominees.

The implications of not having a confirmed commandant for an extended period of time “are not ideal,” Smith said, while noting that senators have a right to place a hold on nominations.

“So this is not a ‘you shouldn't do that.’ That is not my place. That is politicizing the military for me to say that. So I don't. I will tell you if you do that, here's what happens,” he said.

Typically, new commandants issue planning guidance shortly after taking the helm, laying out their vision for the service for the next four years. Berger’s guidance, released in July 2019, was the first step in what became Force Design 2030. The 39th commandant is expected to address the future of that multi-year modernization effort in their guidance.

“So I or no one else can write a commandant’s planning guidance. I can give guidance to the force as the acting commandant, but it does not carry the same weight, quite, as commandant’s planning guidance,” Smith said.

Even after stepping into the role of acting commandant, Smith will remain the assistant commandant, which will require him and his staff to juggle the work of both jobs.

“I will have to parse those duties out to this officer, this officer, this officer, so the synergy that happens in my office now, where I can control and cover down on deputy’s management action groups, deputy’s workforce councils, joint requirements oversight council—one person who ensures that there's synergy…in the Marine Corps message across all forums, that will be harder to maintain because it's parceled out to 4, 5, 6, 7 officers who also have full-time jobs,” Smith said.

“And they will then in turn have to parcel some of their things out to a colonel, who will have to parcel his stuff out or her stuff out to a lieutenant colonel. And you know, the ripple effect is actually pretty significant,” he said.