ARLINGTON, Virginia — The second-in-command of the Marine Corps is a pilot. But he still sees ground combat as the core of the Corps.

“I have to say, I am not from your tribe — I’m from a different tribe,” Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney told a crowd that included dozens of Marine grunts at the Marine Corps Association’s Ground Awards Dinner on Thursday in Arlington, Virginia. “I grew up in a tribe that had one purpose, and that was to support your tribe.”

“There is no other excuse for my tribe,” he continued. “There never has been.”

In a service that prides itself on its tough infantry, most top leaders have themselves been career infantry officers. Now-retired Gen. James Amos, the Corps’ first aviator commandant, was unpopular among some Marines who bristled at being led by a general from outside the infantry community.

Mahoney — who served as acting commandant for four months while Commandant Gen. Eric Smith (an infantry officer) recovered from a cardiac arrest — is another aviator. He has amassed more than 5,000 hours of flight time in the A-6, F-5, F-18 and F-35, according to his official bio.

But he also is a graduate of the infantry officer course. And, on Thursday, he had some fiery words of praise for the Marines who train to fight on land.

“You, as the ground combat element, are the purveyors of constitutional violence,” Mahoney said. “You are the righteous destroyers. If 2,500 years of military history points us in a direction, you are the deciders. You are the finishers.”

Corps leaders have said the war in Ukraine demonstrates Marines should be prepared to knock out ships with long-range fires, surveil adversaries in all domains and work to avoid detection themselves. Although Mahoney reiterated those points on Thursday, he also pointed out that the bloody, protracted fighting in Ukraine has taken place primarily on the ground.

At the same event, Mahoney honored the winners of the Corps’ best squad competition: 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Littoral Combat Team, 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment.

Mahoney gave each Marine in the squad, and one Navy corpsman, a handshake and a hearty punch on the arm. Then the general posed for a group photo with the young infantrymen.

He positioned himself at the very edge of the group.

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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