The largest warfighting unit in the Marine Corps has been left without a confirmed leader because of one senator’s refusal to confirm senior military nominees.
The I Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, California, is now headed by Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering in an acting capacity, following the retirement of Lt. Gen. George Smith Jr. on Aug. 18.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, single-handedly has blocked the confirmation of hundreds of generals and admirals in protest of the military’s policy of providing leave and covering travel costs for troops who seek abortions out of state.
The I Marine Expeditionary Force is the largest of the three Marine air-ground task forces that form the core of the service’s capabilities.
The expeditionary force is supposed to be commanded by a three-star, a lieutenant general. In March, the White House nominated Lt. Gen. Michael Cederholm, the deputy commandant for aviation, for the job.
Gering, formerly the commander of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, was supposed to pin on a third star to replace Cederholm. But the hold on confirmations made that impossible, so Cederholm remains the Marine aviation boss for now.
Gering “has the same authority and responsibility as the officer whom he or she succeeds,” 1st Lt. Sean Waterman, a spokesman for the Marine expeditionary force, told Marine Corps Times via email, quoting from Navy regulations.
“Maj. Gen. Gering will relinquish command when a successor is confirmed by the Senate and arrives at Camp Pendleton to take command, or as otherwise directed by Marine Corps leadership,” Waterman said. “We will not speculate about timelines.”
The expeditionary force is perhaps the most prominent Marine job that has been affected by Tuberville’s hold other than the role of commandant, the No. 1 leader in the Corps.
Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith has been the acting commandant since July 10, when his predecessor, Gen. David Berger, retired. He also is the White House’s pick to be Berger’s permanent replacement, but he has not gotten Senate confirmation.
At his Senate confirmation hearing in June, Eric Smith warned that the hold on nominations could harm military readiness. He alluded to George Smith’s then-impending retirement, though not by name, and said that could leave the Marine expeditionary force in the charge of a one-star general with a relative lack of experience.
George Smith, the outgoing commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force, received his commission in 1985 and became an infantry officer, according to his official bio. His assignments as a general officer included senior military assistant to the defense secretary and deputy commandant for plans, policies, and operations.
Gering, an AV-8B Harrier pilot, previously was the deputy commander of Marine Corps Forces Command and Fleet Marine Forces Atlantic, according to his bio.
The U.S. Naval Institute first reported the leadership change.
Tuberville has said he won’t back down from his refusal to approve nominees through unanimous consent, the typical way the Senate approves batches of nominees. Senate Democrats could be forced to begin pushing confirmations through one by one, a process that could take until next spring, Military Times reported.
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.