Two days after the top Marine general was hospitalized after reportedly experiencing a serious heart problem, the Marine Corps has yet to provide an update on the commandant’s condition.
Gen. Eric Smith, 58, was hospitalized after experiencing a “medical emergency” Sunday evening, leaving Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl performing the duties of Marine commandant, the Corps said Monday afternoon.
Marine spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger declined to answer questions from Marine Corps Times about Smith’s condition or the nature of the medical emergency, citing “the family’s wishes to remain private.”
The U.S. Naval Institute and The New York Times reported Monday that Smith was hospitalized for a heart attack, citing confirmation from unnamed defense officials.
The Times reported that Smith collapsed while running near his residence at Marine Barracks Washington.
Noah Gray, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said in a statement Tuesday that emergency service personnel “responded to a cardiac arrest” near an intersection a block away from Smith’s residence at Marine Barracks Washington on Sunday at 4:58 p.m.
In a sudden cardiac arrest, which can occur after a heart attack, the heart malfunctions and stops beating, according to the American Heart Association.
Gray said his department doesn’t identify its patients.
“Bystanders called 911 and began CPR after witnessing an adult male collapse on the sidewalk while running” in the area of 7th Street and G Street Southeast, Gray said.
Gray said that EMTs and paramedics performed CPR on the man and took him to a nearby hospital.
A spokeswoman for Marine Barracks Washington referred Marine Corps Times to Stenger.
Earlier in the day of his medical emergency, Smith was supporting runners at the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia. The weather was so warm and muggy that marathon organizers closed the race early.
Heckl said in a statement Tuesday his thoughts and prayers were with Smith and his family.
“In typical Marine fashion, I am the next Marine up,” Heckl said. “This is what we do, as so many have done before us throughout the history of our Corps. We must continue the march forward on behalf of our fellow Marines and Nation, regardless of the situation or the uncertainty that we may face.”
Vacancies at Marine Corps headquarters
In July, Smith, then the assistant commandant, became the acting commandant following the legally required departure of his predecessor, now-retired Gen. David Berger.
He was the White House’s pick to become the next commandant, but his confirmation was held up in the Senate by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama.
Tuberville has placed a hold on confirming 378 senior military nominees through the typical process of providing unanimous consent, in protest of a Pentagon policy of providing time off and travel reimbursements for troops who seek abortions out of state.
The Senate in September confirmed three top nominees, including Smith, by voting on them individually.
While Smith simultaneously was the acting commandant and the assistant commandant, he told reporters that he was maintaining a schedule that was “not sustainable” and sleeping approximately five hours a night.
The Senate hasn’t confirmed the nominee for assistant commandant, Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, meaning Smith essentially still was holding down the top two jobs in the Marine Corps.
“The workload remains the same,” Smith said Friday at the Military Reporters & Editors conference in Washington. “There’s still the two full-time jobs filled by one person.”
Heckl, the three-star general who stepped into Smith’s role Sunday, also is the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, overseeing the Marine Corps’ modernization initiative.
Steven Stafford, a Tuberville spokesman, told Marine Corps Times Tuesday that the senator is leading an effort to force an individual vote, likely on Thursday, on Mahoney’s confirmation.
By law, when there is a vacancy in the offices of both the commandant and the assistant commandant, the most senior officer in Marine Corps headquarters performs the duties of commandant until the official commandant returns or the Senate confirms a replacement.
The Marine Corps said Heckl took over because he was the most senior officer at Marine Corps headquarters.
Several senators and congressional representatives issued statements wishing Smith a speedy recovery, with some Democrats criticizing Tuberville for his refusal to confirm nominees through the unanimous consent process.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said Tuesday on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Gen. Smith has been working 18+ hour days without a confirmed Deputy, another consequence of @SenTuberville’s military holds. When our top military leaders are impacted, so is our national security.”
Stafford, the Tuberville spokesman, told Marine Corps Times on Tuesday, using a nickname for the former college football coach, “Coach is praying for a swift recovery, and he is confident in the abilities of General Heckl to get the job done.”
Well-wishes also came from the top enlisted Marine leader, Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, who said Monday in a video message to Marines, “I want to assure you that the Corps’ leadership is in good hands.”
Ruiz said Smith “experienced a medical emergency and is currently receiving care at a local hospital” but didn’t provide further details.
“I know that all Marines will join me in wishing Gen. Smith a swift recovery so he can return to duty,” Ruiz said. “I also know that Marines across our Corps are professional warfighters, who will remain focused on the important work each of you are doing every day.”
Heckl noted in his statement that all orders remained in effect, adding, “Stay the course!”
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.