Top Marine general returns to work, 4 months after cardiac arrest


The top Marine general returned to full duty status Tuesday, a little more than four months after he experienced a cardiac arrest that scrambled the Marine Corps’ leadership.

Gen. Eric Smith, the Marine commandant, hadn’t been performing the Corps’ top job since he was hospitalized from a cardiac arrest on Oct. 29, 2023. But he repeatedly had signaled he intended to get back to work once he had recovered.

Three weeks after his hospitalization, Smith appeared in a brief video to reassure Marines, “I’ll bounce back from this.”

In January, he underwent a successful open-heart surgery to repair the congenital heart abnormality that the Corps said caused the cardiac arrest, and he reiterated he planned to return to full duty status once he could.

Marine general taking steps to return to full duty as commandant

In recent weeks, Smith has made visits to the Pentagon and listened in on meetings in preparation for his return to the job, the Associated Press reported.

“General Smith and his family appreciate the full support of Congress, the leadership at the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, the Joint Force, and all who extended them their well wishes during his recovery,” the Marine Corps said in a news release Tuesday announcing Smith’s return to full duty status.

This will be the first time since July 2023 that the Marine Corps’ top two positions have been filled by leaders on full duty status.

When Gen. David Berger retired as commandant that month, the Senate hadn’t confirmed Smith as his successor thanks to a hold on nominations by Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who refused to confirm senior military nominees through the usual unanimous consent process, in protest of a Pentagon policy facilitating troops’ travel for abortions.

Smith, then the assistant commandant, took over the role of commandant in an acting capacity. The Senate confirmed him as commandant by individual vote in September 2023.

Without a Senate-confirmed assistant commandant, Smith still was doing the equivalent of two jobs at once, he told reporters two days before his cardiac arrest.

Smith’s hospitalization briefly left Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the most senior general in Marine Corps headquarters, in charge of the service. Days later, the Senate rushed to confirm Gen. Christopher Mahoney as the assistant commandant, who would perform the duties of commandant.

Tuberville, who insisted the blame for the military’s leadership gaps lay with Senate Democrats and Pentagon leaders, relented on his hold on hundreds of military nominations in December 2023.

Since his confirmation, Mahoney had been in the situation similar to the one Smith previously faced: performing the top two jobs in the Marine Corps at once.

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