But now, as he looks ahead to July 10, the end of his time in the Corps, he is without a clear plan for what he will do in his retirement. And that’s exactly as he wants it, he told reporters Wednesday.
The top devil dog said he has spoken with several of his retired peers to get advice about life after military leadership.
“The common thread among them were, people approached them with opportunities, and each one sounded awesome, and then like six months later, they were, ‘Holy cow, I got no time. I’m more busy than I was before,’” Berger recounted at a media roundtable at the Modern Day Marine conference in Washington. “And they’re such nice people — genuinely, sincerely nice people — that they couldn’t figure out how to back out of stuff.”
So, for now, Berger’s plan is to say “yes” to nothing for a while.
“Think. Read,” he said. “And then after a few months, I will know what’s next for me.”
Berger loves teaching and coaching, he said, so he would like to do that in some form.
Will he write a book? “I haven’t given it any thought,” he said.
There’s plenty of material from his four years as commandant. He led the Marine Corps during the Trump administration (when the Pentagon and the White House didn’t always see eye to eye); the COVID-19 pandemic; and Force Design 2030, an ambitious, controversial remaking of the Marine Corps.
“There’s a confluence of big things,” he said. “Maybe capturing that might be fun to do.”
Berger, who received his commission in 1981, said he does know that he plans to make time for his family. As a Marine leader, he hasn’t spent as much time with them as he wanted to, he said on the Marine Corps’ BruteCast podcast June 21.
“Now family comes first,” he said. “In terms of my time: visit with our kids, spend time with my wife.”
The general and his wife, Donna, have four sons, two of whom have served as Marines, Military.com reported in 2019.
Berger reiterated his point about family to reporters Wednesday, sketching on a piece of stationery a pie chart of how he plans to allocate his time.
One slice of the pie chart: giving back. Another slice of the pie chart: making money, as needed. But the most important slice: family.
“I have three parts of this pie, but they’re not all equal,” he said. “One part is family. Protect that, not going to encroach on that at all. Zero. No negotiation.”
One thing he implied he won’t do in retirement is micromanage his successor, Gen. Eric Smith, who is currently assistant commandant.
The White House in May nominated Smith to replace Berger. Although a hold on senior military nominations by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, means the Senate can’t confirm Smith by the time Berger must step down, Smith will take the job of acting commandant July 10.
As commandant, Berger faced a fierce backlash from a group of retired Marine leaders who have publicly denounced Force Design. The commandant has insisted that he, unlike the retirees, has access to a wealth of classified intelligence that backs up his plans.
So once he is retired, Berger said, he will have faith in his successor to make decisions.
“Two weeks later, I’m at a degree of separation,” Berger said on the BruteCast. “So I will absolutely trust that the sitting commandant has the benefit of everything I’ve had for four years, every day.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.