At various points in 2023, four different generals were in charge of the Marine Corps.

First there was Gen. David Berger, who retired in July after a four-year term as commandant in which he sought to remake the Marine Corps into a force ready for a fight in the Indo-Pacific.

Then there was Gen. Eric Smith, Berger’s assistant commandant, who acted as commandant before finally becoming commandant in September after getting Senate confirmation.

Then, on Oct. 29, Smith went into cardiac arrest and was hospitalized for two and a half weeks. Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl briefly took charge, as the most senior general in Marine Corps headquarters. Gen. Christopher Mahoney became the acting commandant Nov. 3 once the Senate confirmed him as assistant commandant.

Smith, who is out of the hospital, has signaled he intends to get back to work as soon as he can.

If or when Smith returns, he likely will release the commandant’s planning guidance, which lays out his priorities for the Marine Corps, sometime in 2024.

Smith already has made clear his commitment to continuing and even accelerating the controversial service overhaul that Berger launched, Force Design 2030. While serving as acting commandant, Smith released brief interim guidance emphasizing crisis response and modernization, naval integration, quality of life, recruitment and retention, and making good use of the Reserve.

As of this article’s publication date, it’s unclear when, exactly, Smith will return to his office.

But if he is back to work by New Year’s, perhaps there will be just one person in charge of the Marine Corps in 2024.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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