WASHINGTON, D.C. – The leader of one of the most controversial eras of the Marine Corps retired on Monday as he relinquished command of the service to the first acting commandant in more than a century.
Gen. David Berger retired after 42 years in the Marine Corps and commandant of the Marine Corps Monday at the Marine Corps Barracks just steps from the house he has lived in for the past four years to an audience of Department of Defense leaders. He leaves the service after architecting the controversial Force Design 2030 restructure of the Marines.
“I tried my best to make sure that the Marine Corps is ready today and ready five, 10 years from now. Where we have succeeded, all the credit goes to all of the Marines around the world who are trying things, experimenting,” Berger said on Monday.
There were speeches from the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Berger and Gen. Eric Smith, who will take on the role of acting commandant. The band played, and Marines under a beating sun, marched in formation before passing in review.
But the ceremony was not a change in command. It was a relinquishment of office and retirement ceremony. Smith was been nominated and testified before the Senate last month but has yet to be confirmed.
When Smith stepped up to the podium, he knew he needed to answer the question on everyone’s mind.
What should they call him now that Berger relinquished command to him, but the Senate had yet to confirm him?
Call him ACMC [Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps], Smith said. He’ll continue in his role as the ACMC, and it is a role he is proud to have, he said. Although, he’ll also respond to “Trish’s husband,” he said, referring to his wife.
Smith will take over as acting commandant until the Senate can confirm him.
“Because no 39th commandant has yet been confirmed by the Senate. I will perform the duties of the commandant using the full authority of that office until such time as a confirmation occurs,” Smith said in a video message to Marines issued after the ceremony. “More detailed guidance to the Corps will be issued in the near future. But until then, all current orders and directives remain in effect unless I direct otherwise.”
The message to the Marine Corps does not change, despite having an acting commandant, Smith told reporters after the relinquishment ceremony.
“Continue the mission that has been assigned to you,” Smith said. “I just assigned it to them about two hours ago, which is modernize for a peer fight and continue and enhance our global maritime naval crisis response capability. Those are the two missions. Do all that while exercising ironclad discipline.”
Smith is one of the 250 Navy and Marine Corps officers whose confirmations have been held up by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) over the Department of Defense’s policy on leave and travel for non-covered reproductive care.
As of Monday, 30 Marine general officers and 76 Navy flag positions are on hold.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told USNI News on Monday that there was a growing group of flag and general that will have to work two positions without a confirmed successor.
“There are approximately 110 other positions that will be forced to be dual-hatted to allow for other officers to retire — so we’re looking at about 89 percent of all general and flag officer positions that could be vacant or require a Senate confirmation, again, at a time when we are facing rising challenges from all around the world,” she said.
Everyone is looking forward to having a quick confirmation of Smith, Austin said during his remarks at the ceremony.
“Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history,” Austin said. “Stable and orderly leadership transitions are also vital to maintaining our unmatched network of allies and partners. And they’re crucial for our military readiness.”
The last two times the Marine Corps has not had a sitting commandant were in 1859 — when Brig. Gen. Archibald Henderson died in office — and in 1910 when Maj. Gen. George Elliott had reached mandatory retirement age without a direct replacement.