Biden expected to nominate No. 2 Marine Corps officer to lead service
The Washington Post May 31, 2023
WASHINGTON — President Biden is expected to nominate the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric Smith, to lead the service as commandant, selecting a senior officer who has led troops in combat and served more recently in a key role as the service attempts to transform itself after two decades of counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Smith, 58, has served as the No. 2 officer in the Marine Corps since October 2021. If confirmed, he will replace Gen. David H. Berger, who has been commandant since July 2019 and sought to reorient the service to an island-hopping force that can better counter China in the Pacific. Smith’s nomination could be disclosed by the White House any day, two officials familiar with the issue said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.
Smith’s selection comes amid a broader remaking of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Berger and a couple of other officers retire. Among the other changes expected, Gen. Randy George has been nominated to replace Gen. James McConville as chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., the current chief of staff of the Air Force, has been tapped to replace Army Gen. Mark A. Milley as Joint Chiefs chairman. No nomination has been announced to replace Brown atop the Air Force.
Smith, an infantry officer, previously served as the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, a role in which he helped develop Berger’s vision for the future service, known as Force Design 2030. The plan has proved controversial with some Marines for decisions that include cutting the service’s tanks and reducing howitzer artillery in favor of greater investments in drones and long-range missiles.
As assistant commandant, Smith has defended the plan, saying that war games and exercises will sharpen the service’s concepts for the future.
“We’re going to keep going as fast as we can go,” Smith said last year, speaking at a conference hosted by Defense News. “For those who say, ‘You shouldn’t be focused on China,’ China is the pacing threat . . . but that doesn’t mean you’re not capable of dealing with Russia, North Korea or Iran. It’s that you always go against the fastest runner, and then you hope that the next runner is a little bit slower.”
The plan has garnered significant opposition, with some retired generals even calling it a misguided effort that will damage national security. Other influential Marine Corps veterans have defended the concept, saying the service must evolve to meet the times.
Smith’s earlier roles include a stint from late 2015 to through early 2017 as the senior military assistant to then-Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, where he advised the Pentagon chief and worked with senior civilian officials regularly.
In Afghanistan, he served as the commander of a regiment of Marines in 2011, overseeing several thousand personnel as they fanned out across Helmand province, a Taliban hotbed. Smith also deployed twice to Iraq, including a tour in 2005 as the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, a force of about 1,000 personnel that was based in the city of Ramadi.
Smith was born in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Plano, Texas. He attended Texas A&M University and became an officer in 1987.