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    How the hold on the Marine leader’s confirmation impacts Camp Pendleton
    • July 13, 2023

    A recent move by a Republican senator to hold up the confirmation of the Marines’ top leader not only impacts that office but a whole host of other officers and their families who, during the summer months, report to new commands at bases across the nation and overseas.

    At Camp Pendleton, for example, the top general to lead the Corps’ largest and most significant warfighting command, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, is unable to take over his command of at least 48,000 Marines and their units.

    At present, the command — critical to the nation’s defense and presently focused on strategy and deterrence of aggression in the Indo-Pacific — is led by Lt. Gen. George Smith, who is set to retire in August. Lt. Gen. Michael Cederholm will replace him, but he cannot move himself or his family to Southern California because he also has not been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

    In addition to Cederholm, the holdup in the U.S. Senate means other general officers and their families are unable to move to their new posts, meaning they’re facing delays in getting children enrolled in schools, dealing with base housing wait times and spouses are hindered from seeking employment.

    If Cederholm, who presently serves at the Pentagon, is not confirmed in time, Brig. Gen. Robert Fulford, the acting deputy commanding general of the IMEF, would then take over the role. That leaves the command and its many units in the hands of a one-star general rather than a three-star general.

    “These holds limit the Marine Corps’ ability to make sure the right person is at the right place at the right time in order to ensure operational readiness and strategic success,” said Maj. Josh Larson, a spokesperson for the assistant commandant.

    Locally, that means at least 30 officers and their families are impacted “at a time when the Marine Corps is modernizing to defend the nation against the pacing challenge of the People’s Republic of China and the acute threat of Russia,” Larson said.

    Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, called the holdup a “threat to national security,” noting it impacts not only top leadership positions but the entire chain of command.

    “It’s not just the 200 officers requiring Senate confirmation; it’s everyone below that that’s affected,” said Garamendi.

    Typically at this time of year, the U.S. Senate confirms general and flag officers as well as service chiefs if their four-year term is up.

    Gen. David Berger — who led the Marines for four years and focused on the Corps’ modernization by strengthening its amphibious capabilities and developing a closer relationship with its sister service, the U.S. Navy — relinquished his duties on Monday, July 10. Berger, who was the IMEF commanding general at Camp Pendleton from 2014-16, ended a career of 42 years.

    Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger stands with Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith during Berger’s relinquishment of command ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., July 10, 2023. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Kubitza)

    Though Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith was recently nominated to replace Berger, he can’t officially step into the office and can only lead the Marines in an “acting capacity.”

    Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, has stalled all nominations for senior military jobs because he disagrees with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision to have the Defense Department pay for travel when a service member has to go out of state for abortion services or other reproductive health care.

    In a message to Marines on Tuesday, Smith, a highly decorated infantry officer who once led the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, said he would perform the duties of the office of the commandant until the Senate has confirmed the 39th commandant — but in doing so, he must do his own job and that of the commandant at the same time.

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    Federal law, said Marine spokesperson Maj. Jim Stenger, dictates that an assistant commandmant performs the duties of the commandant until a successor is appointed during vacancies. But that person cannot do anything that would presume confirmation, Stenger said.

    Garamendi said that, in essence, will handicap Smith in major decisions because “the acting commandant does not have the full power of the commandant.”

    “If, for example, there’s a decision to close the West Gate at Camp Pendleton,” Garamendi said, “the person who is to assume the commandant after confirmation will be reluctant to make the decision because this decision might upset one of the 100 senators. Key decisions that need to be made could be delayed.”

    “Sen. Tuberville’s irresponsible blockade of high-level nominations, including the commandant of the Marine Corps, is having a direct adverse effect on our service members and their families aboard Camp Pendleton and will directly impact retention and readiness,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano. “Our military needs strong leaders, and his nonsensical objection to judicious confirmations is preventing our Armed Forces from operating at its full potential.”

    Tuberville has maintained the hold does not impact “people who actually fight” and called on the Pentagon to suspend the abortion policy memo.

    In the meantime, Smith said the Marines’ mission remains the same as it was under Berger: to “modernize our Corps to be most ready to fight and defeat a peer adversary.”

    “We’re privileged to wear this uniform and call ourselves Marines,” he said. “We need ironclad discipline, adherence to high standards of conducting and warfighting excellence. Our conduct in and out of uniform will be beyond reproach; anything less is contrary to our ethos.”

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    ​ Orange County Register