The top Marine general signaled his desire to return to his job — and wished Marines happy birthday — in his first public statement since his cardiac arrest Oct. 29.

After Commandant Gen. Eric Smith’s hospitalization, the duties of commandant have been performed by other generals: first by Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl and, since Nov. 3, by Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney.

“My recovery is going well, and I look forward to getting back in the fight as soon as I can,” Smith said in a written statement included in a Marine Corps news release Wednesday. “Until that time, our Corps is in Gen. Mahoney’s capable hands.”

Smith rapidly has improved in the past week at a Washington hospital and has transitioned to inpatient rehabilitation, according to the news release.

His medical team is “confident that with focused attention and daily interaction, he will be back to full duty status sooner than if utilizing outpatient rehabilitation,” the news release stated.

Having delivered those personal updates, Smith turned to “more important” business — “that I join all Marines in celebrating 248 years of our beloved Corps.”

The Marine Corps birthday, celebrated on and around Nov. 10 to mark the anniversary of the first Continental Marine battalions being raised in 1775, is a beloved tradition in the Corps. The commandant typically plays a big role in the celebrations, attending birthday events galore.

“Like many of you, I’ve celebrated our birthday in a variety of ‘climes and places’ over the years, but what matters most is that we’re together as a family — spiritually, if not physically,” Smith wrote in the statement. “I’d ask you to take a moment to reach out to your brothers and sisters sitting next to you, as well as those you may not have connected with in a while.”

“Have fun, and Happy Birthday Marines!” Smith said.

If or when Smith returns to the commandant job, he finally will have an assistant. The Senate on Nov. 2 confirmed Mahoney, a career aviator, to the assistant commandant job. Mahoney’s nomination had been held up because Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, had refused to confirm more than 400 senior military nominees through the typical process of unanimous consent.

Tuberville, who initiated his hold in protest of a Defense Department policy covering paid leave and travel costs for troops who seek out-of-state abortions, has argued Senate Democrats could skirt the hold by holding roll-call votes on nominees. That lengthy roll-call vote process was how Mahoney was confirmed after Smith’s hospitalization and how Smith was confirmed as commandant in September.

Before his hospitalization, Smith said he had been working 18-hour days as he performed the top two jobs in the Corps simultaneously.

On Wednesday, Mahoney affirmed he would carry on with Smith’s priorities “as we look forward to our Commandant’s return.”

Those include balancing crisis response with the Corps’ ambitious overhaul, Force Design 2030; ensuring the Navy has at least 31 amphibious ships to move Marines around the globe; improving barracks, chow halls and other aspects of quality of life; recruiting and retaining Marines during a challenging military recruiting environment; and making good use of the Reserve.

Mahoney and Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, the top enlisted Marine, led Marines from Marine Corps headquarters on a run through Arlington, Virginia, on Wednesday in honor of the birthday. Clad in green physical training garb, they jogged down a major road in the Washington metro area.

“Marines are different,” Mahoney told the Marines, according to a video of the event the Marine Corps tweeted. “Now, if ‘different’ means better, I’ll take that.”

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.

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