WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps’ top officer has sent a message to all Marines to clarify the direction the service will take while he awaits Senate confirmation to become commandant.
Gen. Eric Smith, who both serves as the assistant commandant and acting commandant, has not received a confirmation vote due to a showdown between Sen. Tommy Tuberville and the Defense Department.
Despite Tuberville telling Smith “congratulations on your nomination, and [I] look forward to supporting you,” the senator has single-handedly held up the general’s confirmation and those of hundreds of military officers who are slated for promotions and new positions.
Tuberville is protesting a Defense Department policy that would allow service members and their dependents to travel to other states for abortions and other reproductive care if they are stationed in states that do not allow those medical procedures. The DoD would give the service members paid time off and reimburse their travel costs.
Smith said during outgoing commandant Gen. David Berger’s relinquishment of command ceremony that, “to make sure that there is no confusion: All orders, directives and guidance in effect this morning remain in effect, unless I direct otherwise. Further guidance to the force will follow.”
Now, three weeks later and no end in sight to Tuberville’s hold, Smith on Aug. 3 released a letter to Marines.
“I cannot predict how long this process may take,” he wrote, “but waiting is not an option for Marines, so we will move out as a team — just as we would in combat. We are always strongest as a team.”
When Berger took command of the service in July 2019, he quickly published his “Commandant’s Planning Guidance” that previewed major changes for the Corps. The service has since run experiments and implemented Berger’s plans through the Force Design 2030 modernization effort that followed.
Smith, as acting commandant, cannot release his own guidance document, though he previously has made clear that he supports Force Design 2030, and told Defense News at the relinquishment ceremony that he’d accelerate some aspects of it even while serving as acting commandant.
Tuesday’s message to Marines called out five focus areas that are deeply reflective of Berger’s work through Force Design 2030 and its follow-on efforts, including Talent Management 2030: balancing crisis response with modernization efforts; naval integration and organic mobility; quality of life; recruiting and retaining Marines; and maximizing the potential of reserves.
“We are a naval force, biased towards the high-end fight, but capable of responding across the spectrum of conflict,” he wrote. “We enable naval and joint force maneuver by being both forward deployed and rapidly deployable. We are expeditionary so that we can stand-in when others must pull back, to enable naval, joint, allied, and partner fires and maneuver.”
To that end, he added, the Corps remains committed to its requirement for 31 amphibious ships plus additional Landing Ship Medium vessels to move Marines around for a range of missions.
Even while serving as the acting service chief, Smith said, “I encourage and will reward innovation which aims to capitalize on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing. No Marine has ever told me, ‘Sir, this weapon shoots too far’ or ‘This equipment is too light.’ We will continue to experiment and modernize, always with a focus on our requirement to win in combat.”
Smith also addressed the trust that must exist between a leader and his organization. “I am incredibly proud of you and all you have accomplished. I believe in you and trust you to do the right thing,” he wrote. “You need to hear that directly from me.”
He then explained that he owes Marines a professional and disciplined command climate and the best quality of life possible, including housing, food and training. “I ask that you trust my decisions are based on the best interest of our Corps, our mission, and our Marines.”
Smith will continue to serve as assistant commandant and acting commandant until the Senate votes to confirm him as the commandant of the Marine Corps. He was nominated to serve as the 39th commandant on May 30 and appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 13.
Though Tuberville and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke two weeks ago, Tuberville is not showing signs of backing down from his across-the-board hold on confirmations.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.