The top Marine general is “making excellent progress” following the sudden cardiac arrest that has scrambled the Marine Corps’ chain of command, the Marine Corps said Friday.
“His baseline physical health has directly contributed to his rapid improvement and he is recovering as expected,” the Marine Corps said in a news release Friday evening. “Once he is discharged from the hospital, he will continue his recovery at his military quarters, but will need to focus on his health prior to fully returning to duty.”
Smith’s hospitalization had left Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, as the most senior officer in Marine Corps headquarters, performing the commandant’s duties — without a Senate-confirmed assistant commandant and while still maintaining his usual job as deputy commandant for combat development and integration.
Gen. Christopher Mahoney was sworn in as assistant commandant Friday morning, the day after his Senate confirmation, and has taken over from Heckl in doing the commandant’s job for the time being.
Meanwhile, before Friday evening, the Marine Corps had provided no details about Smith’s “medical emergency,” citing his family’s desire for privacy and medical privacy law.
Only on Wednesday did the Marine Corps announce Smith was in “stable condition.” It was only with the Friday evening news release that the Corps confirmed Smith had experienced a sudden cardiac arrest.
Other news outlets previously reported Smith had experienced a heart attack, and a spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services previously said the department had responded to a cardiac arrest near Marine Barracks Washington, but the spokesman identified the patient only as “an adult male.”
The news release said the Smith family was “exceedingly grateful for the outpouring of support for General Smith” and “appreciative of the privacy that has been extended to them.”
“General Smith is extremely proud of how the Marine Corps continues to protect our Nation throughout this trying time,” the Marine Corps news release Friday said.
Smith’s hospitalization has added to the controversy surrounding a hold on top military promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama. Tuberville has held up confirmation of senior military nominees in protest of a Pentagon policy that provides paid leave and travel reimbursements for service members who travel out of state to get abortions, a policy he has called illegal.
Tuberville has argued the Senate could get around his hold by voting on nominees one by one, a process Senate Democrats say would last months even if they disregarded all other business.
The assistant commandant normally would be the one to take over if the office of the commandant becomes vacant, but Mahoney’s confirmation was among those caught up in Tuberville’s hold, which meant the top job fell to Heckl in the first days after Smith’s medical emergency.
Mahoney was confirmed by roll-call vote, rather than the speedier unanimous consent process that Tuberville has blocked.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, on Tuesday accused Tuberville of contributing to Smith’s medical issue by denying him an assistant who could ease his schedule. Smith said in September he was sleeping five hours a night as he juggled the top two jobs in the Marine Corps.
“One of the reasons, I think contributed to his condition was he was doing two jobs at once,” Reed told Politico. “I’ve read where he was working from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. As a result, if he had, as is normal, an assistant, he could switch off.”
Tuberville on Thursday brushed off Reed’s remarks.
“Come on, give me a break,” Tuberville said. “This guy is going to work 18-20 hours a day no matter what. That’s what we do. I did that for years.”
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.