Mahoney to continue performing duties of commandant as Smith prepares for heart procedure

By Nick Wilson / November 17, 2023 at 12:25 PM

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith has been released from the hospital and is continuing his recovery at home and preparing for an upcoming heart procedure after suffering a cardiac arrest on Oct. 29, according to a service press release.

The upcoming procedure will repair a bicuspid aortic valve in Smith’s heart, which directly contributed to his cardiac arrest according to doctors, the release states.

A bicuspid aortic valve is a condition present from birth in which the heart’s aortic valve has two rather than three cusps, or flaps of tissue that open and close with each heartbeat to help control blood flow, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The notice does not specify when the procedure will take place but says Smith’s recovery is “well ahead of schedule.” In a Nov. 8 statement, Smith indicated he intends to return to the role of commandant once his recovery is complete.

In the meantime, Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney continues to perform the duties of commandant -- a role he assumed after the Senate voted to confirm him as the service’s No. 2 officer on Nov. 2. Smith has “been in contact with Mahoney,” the service notice states.

“Gen. Mahoney and I see eye to eye on the strategic direction of our Corps and we are fortunate to be surrounded by a Marine Corps family filled with America’s finest leaders,” Smith said in a statement included in the release. “We continue to focus on finding the right balance between modernizing through Force Design and our day-to-day crisis response mission, while also on taking care of our Marines and Sailors.”

Prior to Mahoney’s confirmation, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commandant for combat development and integration and commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, stepped in to fill the role of commandant in Smith’s absence.

Although Mahoney was nominated to the assistant commandant post in July, Smith had been performing the duties of both the Marine Corps No. 1 and No. 2 positions due to a hold on military nominees and promotions exercised by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who continues to block the Senate’s normal confirmation process in opposition to the Pentagon’s leave and travel policies for servicemembers seeking abortion services.

Smith previously called the workload “unsustainable,” saying he was working 18-hour days to fulfill the responsibilities of both positions.

The Senate used a workaround to individually confirm Smith, Mahoney and a handful of other senior military officials. This week, the Senate Rules Committee voted to advance a proposal that would allow the Senate to temporarily override the hold and confirm over 400 defense nominees.