Smith becomes acting commandant as Berger retires

By Nick Wilson / July 10, 2023 at 2:21 PM

At a relinquishment of office ceremony today, Gen. David Berger officially ended his four-year tenure as the 38th commandant of the Marine Corps, passing the torch to Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith who will serve as 'acting commandant' until Congress confirms a new service leader.

Although Smith was nominated for the job in May, his nomination is still pending approval in the Senate, where Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has placed a blanket hold on military nominations and promotions over opposition to the Pentagon’s leave and travel reimbursement policies for servicemembers seeking abortion services.

By law, military service chiefs must retire after four years in office, requiring Berger to relinquish the role of commandant by July 11. With the commandant absent, the service’s second in command -- in this case, Smith -- assumes the duties of the role as acting commandant.

Smith will continue to be responsible for the role of assistant commandant, simultaneously managing the Marine Corps’ No. 1 and No. 2 positions.

In a video shared by the Marine Corps’ official social media accounts today, Smith told Marines all current orders and directives remain in effect unless otherwise specified, indicating that more detailed guidance will be issued in the near future.

During a June confirmation hearing, Smith told lawmakers that, if confirmed, he will continue to advance Force Design 2030 -- the transformational initiative launched by Berger to modernize the service with an increased focus on distributed operations in the Indo-Pacific.

Speaking at the ceremony, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on the Senate to quickly confirm a new commandant, noting it has been more than a century since the Marine Corps has operated under an acting leader.

“Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States, and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history,” Austin said. “Stable and orderly leadership transitions are also vital to maintaining our unmatched network of allies and partners. And they're crucial for our military readiness.”