Marine Corps Commandant Hospitalized Due to Medical Emergency, Service Says

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The 36th Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric M. Smith
The 36th Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric M. Smith, motivates runners during the 48th Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA on Oct. 29, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Dornfeld)

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric Smith, was hospitalized after experiencing a "medical emergency" Sunday evening, according to a service press release.

The press release, which was issued Monday afternoon, did not specify the reason for the commandant’s hospitalization and did not give Smith's status. The service did not provide additional information when reached Monday afternoon.

The Marine Corps does not have a Senate-confirmed assistant commandant who would normally assume responsibility in the commandant's absence. Smith holds the role of assistant commandant in addition to service chief. In his place, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl -- a three-star officer who also holds two jobs -- will serve as acting commandant of the Marine Corps while Smith is in the hospital.

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A spokesperson for the Marine Corps told Military.com that, as of Monday afternoon, the commandant was still in the hospital.

"Out of respect for the family's wishes to remain private, we're not releasing any more information at this time," Maj. Jim Stenger, the spokesperson for Marine Corps headquarters, told Military.com.

Gen. Smith was at the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 29 in support of Marines and his senior enlisted counterpart, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz, who ran the race. It was the same day that he experienced the medical emergency.

It was Smith's last public appearance when he spoke before the start of the marathon in Arlington, Virginia. The race kicked off at 7:55 a.m. There is no evidence he ran in the race, however, and his name does not appear in the official results.

The notification of Smith's hospitalization stands in contrast to the last known incident in which a service chief experienced a medical emergency. In 2020, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday underwent heart surgery after falling ill during a run. Navy officials did not publicly confirm the event for more than a month.

"Gen. Smith is not currently performing the duties of the commandant of the Marine Corps and, due to [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations, we are unable to provide specific details at this time," Stenger said.

Heckl, who is the deputy commandant for combat development and integration and commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, was named interim commandant of the Corps "due to the vacancy in the Office of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps," Monday's press release said.

President Joe Biden nominated Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to be assistant commandant in July, but due to an ongoing congressional hold on military confirmations and promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Smith has been also wearing the assistant chief hat while assuming the responsibilities of commandant.

Tuberville is protesting the Defense Department's policy of providing reimbursement to service members looking to get reproductive health care -- including abortions -- outside of the state where they are stationed.

Now, Heckl is performing three jobs. Stenger confirmed that Heckl was assigned two responsibilities prior to the congressional hold.

A Defense Department spokesperson referred Military.com to the Marine Corps' statement that said Smith was in the hospital. Military.com attempted to get comment from Heckl, but a spokesperson for the general did not have a comment at the time of publication.

Military.com attempted to contact Ruiz's office for comment but did not hear back by publication. The Marine Corps said Monday that "additional information regarding the condition of Gen. Smith will be released at a later time."

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Smith "one of our nation's finest and toughest leaders" and said in a released statement that he hoped that "he will return to full strength soon."

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on X @df_lawrence.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on X @ktoropin.

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