Military Reporters and Editors Conference
6 Nov 2023

Carla Babb (00:01):

Nations, the 14 nations around that all have this economic partnership that they were gonna send forces into invade. I mean, that was never really realistic 'cause none of 'em have the forces to do it. Um...

Gen. Smith (00:11):

I'll Be very brief 'cause I think, uh, the best way I can, uh, show you respect is to do what you wanna do, which is ask questions as opposed to hear me talk. Um, I will say literally just a couple of things. One is, thank you, uh, as fellow defenders of the First Amendment. I appreciate what you do, uh, especially now when there's conflicts globally. And, uh, if I saw the news correctly this morning, I think there's 11 or 12 journalists killed thus far in the conflict in Gaza, an Israel. Um, there's a Marine, also a journalist, Austin Tice. We should call him out. And I appreciate you wearing the pin. Um, thank you for what you do for seeking the truth, putting, putting light on it, and often putting your own lives in danger by, by doing that as a Marine. I would tell you, we are purpose built and trained to come get you. So I've evacuated journalist out of Liberia and other members of my company evacuated them out of the Central African Republic in 1996. So if you're forward, and I hope you don't get in harm's way, but I know many of, many of you will and have already been. Uh, you can rest assured that if you need something, uh, the Marines will come get you. That's what we do, because that's what you do. I will simply leave it at that. Thank you for what you do to defend the First Amendment. And I will turn it over to your questions. They just go out. Can you still hear me? Oh, that was loud. So, uh, so I'm standing by to take your questions and I'll stay as long as you'll have me. I know. Uh, Joe Votel following me. Thank you for letting me go first. 'Cause you don't wanna follow Joe Votel. That's not a good place to be. So I'm ready for your questions. And let me also just say, Carla, thank you very much for having me.

Carla Babb (02:09):

Thank you, Commandant.

Gen. Smith (02:10):

Yes, ma'am.

Carla Babb (02:10):

Um, we really appreciate having you here. For those of us just joining us, I'm Carla Babb, Pentagon correspondent, and a member of the MRE Board. We are honored to have Marine Corps Commandant General Eric Smith joining us.

Gen. Smith (02:21):

Thank you.

Carla Babb (02:21):

And I just wanted to start off, I mean, are, are, are you doing one or two jobs? How many jobs are you doing these days because your, is your Assistant Commandant in place yet?

Gen. Smith (02:30):

Uh, no. Uh, the, uh, the Assistant Commandant nominee, uh, Lieutenant General Chris Mahoney, uh, is not confirmed. So, uh, so there is no assistant Commandant, uh, as is true with all the other services. There's either an, an, an assistant with an acting, uh, service chief or a service chief who is also acting as the vice chief. So I do not have a vice service chief.

Carla Babb (02:49):

So have things changed significantly since you've been able to step into your post? Commandant?

Gen. Smith (02:54):

Um, the, the, the workload remains the same. They're still the two full-time jobs, uh, filled by one person. Uh, so that hasn't changed. I mean, I, I, I mean, I've moved houses, but, uh, I am still doing both of those jobs. Um, and, and using my staff as best I can to fill in where the assistant Commandant would normally be full-time. 'Cause I simply can't be in two places at once.

Carla Babb (03:18):

Well, and so, so still needs a lot more confirmations. Absolutely. Um,

Gen. Smith (03:23):

Yeah, I'm mindful that, um, you know, I'm grateful that, that I was confirmed. But I'm mindful that I have DOD wide has 360 and growing, uh, flag and general officers who are not confirmed, who need to be in their positions in the Middle East, uh, in the Pacific. Um, they, they need to be there, uh, to have the, the exact hand selected person for a hand selected job that they need to marry those up. As soon as, uh, as we can make that happen. I defer to the Senate on their rules and their procedures. I defend Constitution, but I can state that, uh, it does affect our readiness. And the sooner that I have the people in place to do the jobs I need them to do, the better it will be for the young Marines.

Carla Babb (04:04):

Well, we have a lot going on in the world right now and a lot to cover. But I wanna start off with, uh, one of your top three priorities. You said that one of your top three priorities is, uh, the quality, excuse me, the quality of life for Marines.

Gen. Smith (04:18):

Yes, ma'am.

Carla Babb (04:18):

And you know, right now, with everything going on, I know of a Marine in North Carolina who just got prepared to deploy orders. Uh, this Marine has a young child. This Marine's spouse is currently deployed in Asia, and now they are trying to figure out who can essentially raise their child for potentially months on end while both are deployed. Uh, is this a fair scenario? Is there a way to avoid this scenario in order to improve, uh, Marine's quality of life?

Gen. Smith (04:49):

Yeah, the Carla, the note, or the situation you just described is a dual service, uh, couple who are simultaneously deployed. And that does happen. Uh, each dual service couple is required to have a family care plan for just such a contingency, because as Marines, we are all ready to go fight. We're all riflemen. So that does happen. And that family care plan may involve family, it may involve a neighbor. Um, but it, it is still possible for two Marines married to both simultaneously deploy commands work to not have that happen, but if you are the radar repair tech and you're the only one, and we need you to deploy, you'll deploy. And it, it, it just reminds us that we need the quality of life throughout so that when that, uh, unusual circumstance happens, you're ready for it. Because you've had the child development center, you've had the time off the leave to, to solidify your family so that, for that six month period when you're both gone, it's, it's less rocky than it was because you had time to prepare for it. But that is one of the contingencies of being a Marine.

Carla Babb (05:52):

And that is a hard part when it comes to quality of life. When you talk about trying to, to improve quality of life.

Gen. Smith (05:57):


Carla Babb (05:58):

Uh, I want,

Gen. Smith (05:58):

And most of that quality of life that, that I'm focused on now is child development centers, barracks, uh, chow halls, gyms, family housing, uh, just in the barracks down at Camp, uh, Lejeune. Looking at ways to improve all of our barracks for our youngest Marines. 'Cause the youngest Marines deserve the most protection in, in my opinion, the older Marines. I love you. But our job is to take care of the younger Marines.

Carla Babb (06:20):

And when it comes to prepare to deploy orders, we know that about 900, uh, folks have been deployed, uh, of the ones who have been given prepared to deploy orders. Can you tell me how many Marines have been given prepared to deploy orders and have any Marines deployed yet to the Middle East?

Gen. Smith (06:36):

Yes. So I'll, I'll be mindful here, uh, to not get ahead of, um, the department and or official orders hitting anyone. What I would say is that, um, that we have Marines forward already because they're always forward. That's what we do. You we're the crisis response force, the expeditionary force in readiness. So we always have Marines forward, like the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit. We don't discuss their exact location. They can move about 500 miles in a day. We just don't say which way they're gonna move. Um, so I would expect to see Marines, uh, receive PTDO's prepared to deploy orders. And that's really just a heads up a warning. It's possible you'll deploy. So double check your gear, double check and be ready to go. Uh, we live in that, uh, world of, uh, 24, 48, 72, 96 hour, ready to deploy orders. We do that around the globe. We do that in Djibouti right now. Um, so that's actually not very new for us. Um, we are the fight tonight force. So when a Marine gets a, a prepared to deploy order, not anything new. But I won't get into specific numbers because those have not been solidified and I won't even presume that any Marines will be sent forward.

Carla Babb (07:45):

Understood. Could you say, if any of the OCONUS, any of the United States that have received prepared to deploy orders, have they deployed at this time?

Gen. Smith (07:53):

Uh, ahh

Carla Babb (07:53):

Of the Marines specifically.

Gen. Smith (07:55):

So, again, I'll, I'll hold until, um, until I confirm what is and is not yet public. 'Cause literally something could have changed, uh, on my drive over here from the Pentagon, which it's DC So that took about 25 minutes.

Carla Babb (08:09):

Okay. Well you mentioned the 26 MEU.

Gen. Smith (08:11):


Carla Babb (08:12):

Uh, the Marine Expeditionary Unit currently near Israel. What is their mission at the moment?

Gen. Smith (08:18):

Sure. Well, the mission at the moment is to be prepared to do any of their 10 tasks, which is the mission that they have 24/7. So when a Marine Expeditionary Unit deploys along with the Amphibious Ready Group, normally for six or seven months, they have 10 missions, amphibious assault. They can conduct raids, they can conduct non-combatant evacuation operations. They can conduct maritime interdiction. They can conduct visit board, search and seizes. So that MEU has been, uh, disaggregated or extended one of the ships up in the high North working with our Norwegian allies and our other allies such as Spain and Italy. The other two ships have been down, uh, ensuring that, uh, any possible aggression in and around the Strait of Hormuz or the Gulf of Oman is prevented. So they've been split apart, which they're designed to do. And then what the decision is on putting them back together or not moving them or not is still something that the, the Secretary of Defense holds the authority to do.

Carla Babb (09:19):

Could we see U.S. Marines inside Gaza?

Gen. Smith (09:22):

Uh, I would never speculate. Uh, there is, there is no, uh, intent that I am aware of to have any, uh, U.S. Personnel on the ground in Gaza. That is not anything as a member of the Joint Chiefs that I am prepared to talk about or that I have even discussed. Um, we are there to ensure, uh, in that region, to ensure that American citizens are safe and that this crisis does not expand or escalate. And from the president on down, they've been very clear. Those who would seek to extend or escalate this conflict, broaden it. You should be careful.

Carla Babb (09:59):

And so if they're not yet potentially going into Gaza, another idea that's been thrown around is using the Amphib ship, using the hospital on there for potential casualties, uh, to treat any wounded. When this expected ground invasion that's kind of started, kind of hasn't started, when that gets fully underway, is that something that the 26 MEU is capable of?

Gen. Smith (10:23):

Yeah, the, the amphibious ships and the Marine Expeditionary Unit and those sailors, all war fighters, uh, aboard those amphibious ships such as the Bataan, uh, Carter Hall, and then Mesa Verde, they all have operating rooms. And that's why we, that's why we fight so hard for amphibious ships 'cause we have to fight from them. But an amphibious war ship, uh, is a floating airfield, a floating gas tank. It's a floating hospital. Um, so all those capabilities of floating power projection platform. So those hospital, uh, operating rooms aboard those ships, they're agnostic to who they treat the decision, who they treat be made obviously by the National Command Authority. Uh, but they're absolutely capable of treating anyone, um, at, at, at a truly high level of care. Again, that's why the Amphib ships are so important.

Carla Babb (11:09):

So a couple more questions because I know there's a, an audience that is dying to ask you questions.

Gen. Smith (11:13):


Carla Babb (11:14):

Uh, but, and

Gen. Smith (11:14):

I'm speaking as fast as I can. <laugh>, my normal Texas accent would slow me down, But I'm doing you a favor of speeding up.

Carla Babb (11:20):

But, you know, in all serious, as this week actually marks the 40th anniversary of the Beirut bombing.

Gen. Smith (11:26):


Carla Babb (11:26):

The the deadliest attack on U.S. Marines since Iwo Jima. And, and with the threats that we're seeing now in the Middle East with near daily attacks on U.S. forces, Houthi missiles being shot down, how do you make sure that Marines aren't attacked like that again?

Gen. Smith (11:45):

There's two ways. Uh, one, we train them. I am responsible for their training, their organization and their equipment. We make sure that they are properly trained to not just defend themselves, but to project power against those who may do them harm, may seek to do them harm. Um, so what I can do as a service chief, I prepare forces and then I pass them to a combatant commander who employs them. I don't have operational control over any Marines. Um, I have service retained forces who I train. The biggest thing we can do is train them and arm them with the equipment that they need to defend themselves. And I can do it in venues like this when I remind people, uh, as I did, uh, down at Camp Lejeune, when I went down to see the Marine Veterans of Battalion landing team 1/8 who were, uh, part of the, uh, operation, um, in Lebanon that led to the, to the bombing of the barracks, killing 241 individuals, 220 Marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers. I can remind them that you don't want to target a U.S. Marine. Uh, that is, that's gonna lead to one of your worst nightmares. You do not want to target us and by venues like this, to remind people we are fully prepared and capable of dealing with threats to us. We're not who you seek to tangle with. Um, and I'll leave out the, the one line I used down there 'cause I may get in a little trouble, but I may use it again anyway. Um, and it kind of, you know, spirit moving you moment, um, just talking to a bunch of Beirut veterans and, and, and I, it wasn't something pre-planned as if you will, it was just kind of came out that if, if, if you target us, someone else is gonna raise your children. Um, and that's not a joke. That's not bravado. That's just how Marines think. You don't wanna target us. And so I use that, uh, in this venue to remind people, be, be careful about trying to broaden the conflict.

Carla Babb (13:35):

The two strikes that the U.S. Conducted in Syria, uh, on a weapons facility storage facility and an ammunition storage facility.

Gen. Smith (13:43):


Carla Babb (13:43):

Is that enough, in your opinion, to deter aggressors from targeting U.S. Forces in the Middle East?

Gen. Smith (13:51):

Well, I wouldn't, I would never offer an opinion as a service chief or vice chief, um, about is some, is a, is a decision made by our, uh, our political leadership. Enough, I, I would offer it should be, if you're on the receiving end, it should be, and you can just dot, dot, dot, uh, at the end of that.

Carla Babb (14:16):

Well, I wanna ask one more, just broad question for you. With, with Ukraine, with Israel, with everything going on right now, how have these wars affected your preparations for modernization of the force and your preparations for a potential conflict with someone like Russia or China?

Gen. Smith (14:37):

Sure. Um, we, we are, Secretary Austin has said it, we're capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. There's always a fine balance between force modernization, which is force design 2030. That is the, the, the righteous destination we have to go, uh, or where we have to go to modernize the force for the next possible conflict and making sure we have near term readiness to respond to crises. That's why we're able to push the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit out. Uh, that's why we have Task Force 61/2, which is operating in and around the Mediterranean. We have Task Force 51/5, which operates out of Bahrain. So we are capable of doing both. And it is, it is a constant balance for me, for how much effort and funding do I put into modernization versus flight hours, uh, schoolhouses, ammunition to train with, uh, stockpiles of ordinance. It's always a fine balance. And it's, it's constant. It's, it's like you, you cannot stand still on your two feet. You, you always are shifting your weight. That's what I do as a service chief, is I'm constantly moving back and forth between readiness, modernization, readiness. It's not either or. It's, it's, yes and. Uh, and it is a real challenge, especially when it's all undergirded by the Marine. The Marine's the most important thing we do. And the quality of life, retaining that Marine, caring for that Marine, preparing that Marine recruiting, that Marine, uh, all that has to be balanced. And the Marine is first all stop. If you don't take care of your Marine, then you won't have a Marine to take care of.

Carla Babb (16:05):

Well, you hear from politicians and advocates. Some will say that the wars are taking away from U.S. resources and reset and U.S. time, uh, to train Marines or, you know, any of the services. And then you hear from someone like Ambassador Markarova today pointing out that while the United States is giving its supplies, certain supplies to Ukraine, the United States is replenishing its stocks with newer equipment. So how do you view the situation right now? How, how do you see that? Do you see that as a place to where you can capitalize on it? Or is it hindering what you wanna do in your plans for the Marines?

Gen. Smith (16:43):

Yeah. Not, not hindering. Um, when, when Russia in an illegal and unprovoked fashion attacked Ukraine, then they initiated an action, which was met, I think, uh, by the fighting spirit of, uh, the Ukrainian citizens and soldiers in a, in a manner they probably did not expect. So when we replenish, it's not a, a good or a bad. We just, we do, our job is to defend the Constitution. And sometimes people will, I think, will say, well, what does that mean? You know, you're, you're supporting Ukraine or you're, uh, uh, supporting Israel after they were brutally attacked, uh, by Hamas. Um, how's that the Constitution? Well, when the president issues an order, then that is defending the Constitution. 'Cause he is the commander in chief. It's right there in the Constitution. So when, when, when we support the orders that were given, then that, in, in my assessment, that is defense of the Constitution. It's how it works. So we can, it's, it's not a, uh, an opportunity or a negative. It is just what we do. I I've been doing it for 36 years. Um, you know, did the first Gulf War been to Iraq, been to Afghanistan, been into Liberia, been to Cuba, um, this is just what we do. So for us, I can just give you my perspective. This is, uh, somewhat ops normal. 'Cause there's sadly always a conflict around the corner, which is why we get paid to be prepared. 'Cause you do not know when the next fight is coming.

Carla Babb (18:10):

Well, thank you with that. I wanna open up to questions from the audience. Um, Megan, do you wanna start us off?

Gen. Smith (18:18):

And, and I am speaking as fast as I can speak and have y'all still understand me? 'Cause my normal thing is a lot slower.

Carla Babb (18:23):

I too have a Southern accent. We're also trying to speak fast.

Gen. Smith (18:26):

I know. It's hard, isn't it?

Carla Babb (18:27):

It is hard. Megan, start us off.

Megan (18:29):

Hi, general, great to see you today. Thank you so much for being here. Um, you mentioned Force Design 2030. Uh, one of the decisions that was made was to move to a smaller force to free up money for the modernization efforts. And I just wonder, you know, now that you're seeing these requirements to be more present in the Pacific and do the recon, counter recon in the high North and now respond to crises in the Middle East, I just wonder how that smaller force is playing out and how you're, you know, monitoring optempo and force readiness and things like that to ensure that you're not overworking a smaller force.

Gen. Smith (19:02):

Sure. Uh, real quickly, I monitor, uh, deployment to dwell D to D depth to dwell, which is units. And I monitor pers tempo, personnel tempo. The individual who may move between units, um, we're okay. Uh, and the, the change in our force size was not actually to generate dollars. What we said is, Hey, what, what do we wanna look like to deal best with a pacing threat, best with a peer competitor? What does that look like? And then we just reprioritize certain systems. And when we did that, you said, okay, well the unit required for this capability isn't this big, it's this big. So the force size now about 172,500, which by the way, was the same size of Marine Corps was on 9/11. Uh, and I've seen a Marine Corps of 172. I've seen a Marine Corps of 202 and everything in between. So, uh, nothing new here. Um, the force size we have now is sufficient. And I'm constantly doing, we for artillery, we for target plans, we do top down targeting bottom up refinement. And for force design 2030, we're always in bottom up refinement, as was my predecessor, General Berger constantly refining. So if the, the data shows that we need to change our force structure, we'll do so. But right now, I'm, I'm comfortable with where we are and, and the ability to produce capabilities and provide that to the combatant commanders.

Carla Babb (20:22):


Jay Price (20:24):

General, Jay Price with the American Home Front Project, which is a collaboration between local sessions and NPR on military and veterans things. We've talked before about 2030, and you just went where I wanted to go with it, which is that refinement thing. It never struck me as a static plan that we will execute this precisely. It seemed like it was something that's always gonna be in refinement.

Gen. Smith (20:45):


Jay Price (20:45):

From now to eternity. Um, what do you see that is going to be most likely to need the most refinement ahead and what's really in churn right now with things that are shifting pretty quickly or in big ways. And then secondarily, there seemed to be a pretty cons, there was a pretty concerted push to kind of undermine it, um, that you're obviously well familiar with by previous, um, generations of Marines. Um, is it my imagination or is that slowed down or they just give you a pause here for, you know, to let you get going again?

Gen. Smith (21:21):

Yeah. Um, well, the, the first one, first, uh, there's, there's nothing, there's not a particular, I'm most focused on that. 'Cause everything is in balance. So it's a combination of better training, better systems on which to train better systems, to give you longer range. I mean, if we've seen anything outta Ukraine, it's that range does matter. Matters more in the Pacific. Um, the right balance for us. We are a combined arms, Marine, Air, Ground Task Force. So we have to keep that in balance, the right aviation element, the right ground element, command and control, logistics, intelligence, uh, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, uh, ISR platforms. So it's none, it's not just that or just that it is keeping them in balance. That's always my challenge. So that the force that I provide forward, whether it's a marine expeditionary unit or a marine expeditionary force, has all the tools it needs. So there's nothing in particular that I'm most concerned about. I have an open mind to everything. Uh, and I think we're in a, in a good place. Uh, 'cause I, I just finished touring the entire Marine Corps, and if you ask the young Marines, the Corporals, the Captains, the Majors that, I mean, all, all they're saying is, you know, hey, old man, don't, don't hold me back. I'm ready to go. They are always to include my own son who often calls me an old man and tells me he's ready to go. Um, with regard to, you know, criticism of, we welcome criticism. I, I have, I have personally spoken to every living former Commandant, every living former Marine combatant commander. And I had a great relationship as the assistant Commandant with all the former ACMC's. So I keep that dialogue going. I think I talked to four of them last week. Uh, had had lunch with one yesterday, have a dinner with one next week. I'm, I'm fine talking. Uh, and I, I think, um, we, we are all in agreement that there's one Commandant at a time right now. That's me, um, you know, appointed, confirmed. So I, I've got it. And, and what I would say, it's hard to talk to all of them at one time, obviously, because fortunately, we're all living longer. Um, so there's a lot of them. And that's good. Um, I was raised under many of them, trained under many of them. So you, you can trust me that, uh, the Marine Corps is going in the right direction. We are still a combined arms global crisis response force, a Marine Air Ground Task Force. And while the weapons change and the training and tactics change, that's still our purpose. We're still making Marines. If you go to Paris Island or San Diego, we are still making steely-eyed Marines. So I, whether it's died down or not, I don't, I don't really track, uh, I'm focused on making the Marine Corps better and the Marines better, and their quality of life better. So I, I think we're okay.

Carla Babb (24:02):

Thank you.

Press (24:06):

Speak from here. Do you want me to use mic? Oh, oh, thanks there. Uh, so I saw an interesting video yesterday. You were, you, it looked like you were in the barracks with the Secretary of the Navy, and you stopped and spoke to a Marine who was in 0811.

Gen. Smith (24:20):

Yeah. Corporal Ramirez. Yeah. 0811.

Press (24:22):

And you said something very interesting that made me curious. You said, you know, 10 years ago we didn't have her and we lost out.

Gen. Smith (24:28):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Press (24:28):

And it made me think in 10 years from now, Who is The person you don't have? What is the capability you don't have?

Gen. Smith (24:35):


Press (24:35):

Then in 10 years, you're gonna say, we lost out.

Gen. Smith (24:38):

Yeah. So Corporal Ramirez, uh, 0811, that's a, an artilleryman. You know, she, she pulls a lanyard. Um, and the requirement is you move a 95 pound artillery shell. If you can meet the standard, then you can have the job. Have a nice day. Um, and so, uh, I, I literally bumped into her in the barracks. We were just shooting a breeze. And, and that was my normal Texas speak in that video. So I'm not speeding as fast, but she, um, she's doing her job. And candidly, you know, you'll see comments most from people who claim to be former Marines who are not. 'Cause they misspelled Marine Corps. They don't put a S on the end and that's your first clue. Um, and fortunately, you're seeing the, the righteous voices come over the top and say, Hey, you know, she can do a job. Knock yourself out, sister. Um, so our goal for recruiting, I won't say who, who or what. I'm worried about not having in 10 years. What I want is access to a hundred percent of America's talent. And I don't care if you're black, white, male, female, gay, straight, I don't care. Are you willing to serve your country? Step up and take a shot? You know? 'Cause 'cause I'm not gonna, I've said it before. I'm not gonna beg you to join the Marine Corps. You wanna come be a Marine? We made a recruiting mission this year. You wanna come be a Marine? Come try out for the team. No guarantee, But I just want access to everybody. And I want everybody out there who's in high school, uh, to say, Hey, I, that could be me, But I'm not recruiting to any particular market. I'm recruiting to America. And you, those who wish to step up and serve, there's a place for you here. Step on up.

Carla Babb (26:06):

Right here in the middle.

Drew Lawrence (26:11):

Commandant. Thanks for being here. My name is Drew Lawrence. I'm a reporter with, uh, You recently returned from a trip from camp. You recently returned from a trip from, uh, Camp Lejeune. Looks like you were checking out the barracks there. Um, what, can you give us examples of what the good, bad, and ugly you saw there? Um, additionally, what is the Marine Corps doing to ensure that public works responds to work orders in a timely and adequate manner? And then just at the 10,000 foot view, um, what's it, what's it gonna take, um, to get the approximately 17,000 Marines who are living in substandard housing out of that substandard housing? And I, I fully offer that, um, number from the GAO report, knowing that many other branches did not, don't track that. So I understand. Yeah.

Gen. Smith (26:59):

So thanks for, for asking that. 'Cause quality of life and taking care of the Marines is my first priority. I'm responsible for them. All stop. That all comes to me. We're doing several things to modernize the barracks. So there's a couple things. Uh, what I saw at Camp Lejeune purposely was our least, uh, good barracks, our better barracks, and our best barracks. We wanna move toward best. There's six long answer, but I'll condenses. We have 652 barracks in the Marine Corps. It's far too many. The average occupancy rate across the core's about 60 ish percent. So we have, we have too many barracks. And what we have to do is put all of our people into our best barracks, which will change how we do unit integrity. So you could have a Marine from First Battalion, First Marines, and Second Battalion, First Marines share in a room before we would never do that. We're gonna have to do that so that the, the lowest quality barracks are empty. We do a thing called FSRM, which is maintenance. So it's cheaper and often much faster to increase the quality of a barracks. Add an air conditioner like we just did at, uh, Pulgas. That's the home of 11th Marines Artillery. Uh, next year we'll put two or three, uh, air conditioner, air condition barracks, air conditioning into barracks at Horno, which is where First Marine Regiment is. And Horno is for those of, you know, Spanish for the oven. And we've never had air conditioning there. So this is something that's never been done, and we'll do it next year. Um, we also are looking to professionalize our barracks managers. I don't wanna put a young corporal or a sergeant who's not a barracks manager in charge of the barracks. That's how you fix the public works. You put a professional to a professional. And then my budget that I, that I have control of through the Secretary of the Navy, has to reflect that I'm actually putting more money to barracks to get them up to speed. So a combination of consolidation, modernization, construction, and then professionalizing inside the barracks will get it. But we we're in a hole that will take us years to get out. Sergeant Major Reese and I have crossed the line of departure, and I'm committed to getting that as far as I can in four years. I will get it done.

Carla Babb (29:00):

So you think that you can be able to, to fix this in four years before you leave?

Gen. Smith (29:04):

No, I'm gonna get it done as in my part for four years. But the next Commandant and probably the next Commandant. 'Cause it's a constant, uh, iteration. I I think it's a 10 year problem to get out of the, uh, of the barracks issue that we're in. Because frankly, there's not enough construction companies to do it. Um, costs are, are extremely high right now, as you know. So I think it's a multi-year challenge to get every marine living in a barracks. And then the final thing, not to, to belabor the question too much. Uh, my sergeants wanna live out in town, which I get right. I'm 25. You don't wanna live in a room with three other building or one other person. But congress funds barracks. And what what is difficult as I balance the budget is they funded a barracks. It's hard to ask the taxpayers to fund a barracks and to fund you to live out in town. So it's one or the other. But we are putting sergeants out into town the most, the highly, most highly performing 600 sergeants. We're giving them, uh, BAH, uh, which is basic allowance for housing own right to go live in town. 'Cause we know they want that. We wanna retain them. So I'm, I'm walking a thin line here between occupancy rates, closing barracks, unit integrity, um, spending money to modernize them, build new ones, and professionalize the workforce. So it's, it's an all of the above strategy called, uh, barracks 2030. I've taken the 2030 largely off of force design. I just say force design 'cause I don't wanna say 2031 next year and 2032. The one number I'm not removing it from is barracks 2030, get it done 2030. That's that's to put pressure on me and my team to get that done. On behalf of Lance Corporals.

Carla Babb (30:40):

Thank you. Back in the back.

Steve (30:44):

As I make the walk back, I'd like to, to try to get one in.

Carla Babb (30:47):

Go ahead, Steve.

Steve (30:48):

Just back to the Middle East briefly. Um, you've been very emphatic that if you, uh, if you're attacked, you're gonna respond. Though, of course, the mission, uh, is to keep the conflict between Hamas and Israel from widening. So how do you balance those two things and do you feel you're being at all goaded into this conflict?

Gen. Smith (31:06):

So the last one, no, um, goaded into it. We're, we're pretty savvy. We have an exceptional commander in the Middle East, uh, general Erik Kurilla, who's a friend of mine. Um, we have exceptional chairman, general Brown, um, who we all provide as joint chiefs, uh, advice through the chairman to our Secretary of Defense, secretary Austin. So, no, on the goading, it is a fine line. It is a providing sufficient forces to let people know if you, if you attempt to extend this conflict beyond Hamas, Israel, and you attempt to, we're there to prevent that, we'll just leave it open-ended at that. We're there to prevent that. If you target us specifically, we have the capability to respond. And I think events in the last couple days have proven, uh, not, not afraid to respond.

Heather Mongilio (32:02):

Hi, General Smith. It's Heather Mongilio with, uh, USNI news. Um, so yesterday the DODs annual suicide report came out and the Marine Corps had its worst rate in 11 or since 2011. Um, I know as ACMC, you've been pretty open about talking about mental health. So three part question. What's not working? What are you planning to do now as Commandant and for all those people you're trying to recruit in the next years, what are you gonna tell them when they see that 30, the suicide rate was like almost 36, uh, per a hundred thousand Marines.

Gen. Smith (32:35):

Yeah. So I'll do the last one first. Um, sometimes what I hear even from within my own service is, well, you know, when we, when we adjust the suicide rate, age normit against the U.S. Population, we're at or better than the U.S. population, 'cause we're very young. 18 to 24. I'm actually not having any of that be because I don't want to be average. Uh, that that's a fact, but it's an irrelevant fact to me. Uh, 'cause one is too many. There was a report that came out, um, on suicide, uh, causation. And it gave multiple, it's called the spur, but it, it had multiple recommendations which were beginning to implement, which is everything from professional, uh, help within our units, um, to ensuring command climate. And that's a focus for me. I just talked of all our new commanders command climate for a commander's job one, um, recruiters, I just spoke to all of our recruiting station commanders, recruit people who are, who are ready, who are resilient, um, so that they come into a core ready. And so that the environment they res they find when they arrive at their first unit matches what they signed up for. Um, suicide's, a crisis across the entire country. Um, so as far as causality, I don't know, I don't think any of us know. Each case is slightly different. Um, it's something that is personal, uh, painful. I, I know Marines well who have taken their lives. And what we can do is in ensure that Marines know it's, it is okay to ask for help. It does not injure career. That is kind of the, sometimes the barracks lawyers, as we call them, the sea lawyers, they're gonna kick you out. No, we're not. Now if, if the thing that is causing you to, to go over the edge in your stress level is the Marine Corps, then I'll help separate you. That's okay. 'Cause when you're 50, you can thank me. But if you just need help, just ask. If you tear a hamstring, you, you're gonna ask for help from a doctor. The real challenge I think we have is there's a, a lack of about 800,000 medical professionals in America right now. Give or take 600,000 nurses, 200,000 doctors. And that includes mental health professionals. They're not there to obtain into the military. So we have to use our corpsman, our commanders, and our chaplains. Uh, there's several, several, uh, good pieces of work that show that a chaplain has an incredibly outsized impact on the unit. And we're short about 400 chaplains across the Department of the Navy. So one of the things I've asked to do is, can we do MECEP marine enlisted commissioning program? Take a young sergeant and make 'em an officer? Can we do that for chaplains? I have a young marine who's, who says, I wanna serve as a chaplain. We, we, the MECEP, we would pay them to go to school. They keep the rank and then they come back. Can we do that for chaplains? Uh, the chief of chaplains, uh, Greg Todd is looking into that. So it's an all of the above, but I don't have the answer yet, other than to be the public face and tell Marines, if you have a challenge, if you have a problem, just ask. Just let us know. We're not gonna quote kick you right out. That's not how it works. It's a wicked problem, and I haven't solved it yet.

Carla Babb (36:04):

You know, Caitlin, and while we're waiting for the mic, one of the things that we haven't discussed yet, uh, and I'm kind of surprised, is the situation over in the indo-pacific.

Gen. Smith (36:15):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>

Carla Babb (36:15):

Uh, the situation with Taiwan, Chinese aggression continuing.

Gen. Smith (36:19):


Carla Babb (36:20):

How confident are you that the U.S. Marines will be able to remain in the first island chain? Should China Try to take Taiwan?

Gen. Smith (36:29):

Sure. Uh, very. Uh, the concept is stand in forces. Remember, we, we, I just commanded three MEF, uh, third marine expeditionary force outta Japan. We've been in the Indo-Pacific since the end of World War II in 1945. We haven't left. We're not leaving. I just had dinner last night. I hosted a dinner and honored, uh, ambassador Tomita who's the, the departing Japanese ambassador. We have spectacular alliances there with Korea, with Japan, with Australia, Philippines, uh, Thailand. Very confident. The the problem is logistics, which is why we have the global positioning network to pre-stage things like the EDCA, uh, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites in the Philippines. So our units are small enough, mobile enough, and low signature enough to get to their strategic locations to do counter-recon and recon to strike and to enhance joint kill chains. Then the challenge is sustaining them, but as I've said before, people will often say, well, you'll never be able to sustain those forces. The only thing, the the WEZ is the weapons engagement zone. The only thing harder than sustaining yourself inside the WEZ is fighting your way back into the WEZ. So I'll take the first problem and solve that, which I'm doing through air surface and potentially subsurface delivery means through additive manufacturing and three D printing and through pre-staging called Global Positioning Network. So the Marines are, are ready to go. If you ask General Jurney who's in charge of marine forces pacific, um, you would find that the first marine littoral regiment that we stood up, it's number three. So it's the third Marine littoral regiment. It is initial operationally capable. Now they've been used in major exercises like Balikitan. Um, the 12th Marine Littoral regiment will be activated here in just a few days. Um, they will stay in Japan. That's a huge change. The two plus two agreement between the U.S. And the Japanese government said, yes, you can stay in Japan. They were scheduled to leave and go either to Guam or Hawaii. Now they're staying because our allies and partners see the utility in those littoral regiments because of their mobility, lethality, connectivity. Um, and now it's about sustaining, which is why logistics is our pacing challenge. China pacing threat, uh, pacing function, pardon me, is logistics. I'm confident.

Carla Babb (38:47):

You mentioned EDCA with the Philippines. So those four new bases that the U.S. Has just had permission to be on, how much of a game changer is that having those additional bases, uh, right there, so close to a Taiwan, should there be a, a crisis that breaks out there?

Gen. Smith (39:03):

Sure. Uh, they're, they're very important to us. And we also have Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. Remember there's 2,500 Marines, uh, pardon me, in Australia, 2,500 Marines in the Northern Territories. I just met with the Northern Territories, uh, chief Administrator Natasha Fyles, um, to talk about Marines in Darwin. So very important and we're very grateful to the government of the Philippines. Admiral Aquilino, our combatant commander there and the indopac, um, has worked that for those sites. And I think, uh, the Philippine government, uh, understands the challenges they face too. I won't speak for them, I would never do that. But I would note that, uh, Chinese vessels just rammed two Filipino vessels simply trying to resupply their own Filipino Marines. So having those supplies forward gives us sustainment and it gives us the ability to respond quickly. 'Cause remember we have five mutual defense treaties in the Pacific. One of them is with the Philippines. Those are mutual defense treaties and they're very, very important. Uh, I think everybody knows it's Korea, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, and Australia. Those are our mutual defense treaties.

Carla Babb (40:07):

Thank you, Kate.

Kate (40:09):

Thanks. Um, so I was interested to hear if you could provide like a status update on the munitions and equipment that have been sent to, um, the, the stockpiles that you have been sending to Ukraine to support Ukraine. Like are you guys getting to like a critical level? Can you only do maybe like a couple more drawdowns before it starts to get into your own needs? And are you getting like resupplied at the level that you need it?

Gen. Smith (40:33):

What I would say is we're continuing to provide what we're directed to provide. And I'm still capable at this point of providing my artillery units, well-trained to deploying units. Now I am prioritizing those units who go out the door first. Um, because obviously there is a, a, a currently a, a semi finite number of specific munitions, which is why it's so important to do the defense industrial base and, and give them the funds to build those munitions. And I'm really grateful. Congress last year gave us five year procurement authority for specific mission munitions. That really, really helps. So we do manage and monitor every single PD, presidential drawdown. Um, I track that through my plans, policies and operations shop. And I have a say in that very, very robust and rigorous process that goes up through the joint staff. I get a say in every one of those. Um, and we are still able to meet what we need to do operationally while still providing, you know, to our u Ukrainian friends, the, the gear they need to deter. Um, again, I'll say it 'cause it's the easy thing to say 'cause it's true illegal unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukrainians. I mean unacceptable. And so we, we'll provide what we're directed to provide and I will manage my training, uh, appropriately. So I can still produce 24/7 globally crisis respond, global crisis response forces. Just like the 26th Expeditionary, Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Kate (42:00):

You don't have any timeline. You have like only six months left.

Gen. Smith (42:04):

Um, I'll just leave it that, even if I did, I'm not saying I do or don't. I I would, that I would not share publicly. Uh, 'cause that would get into a total munition requirement, which is a classified document.

Carla Babb (42:15):

Time for a couple more. Let's go back in the back. Mallory and, uh, Chris.

Mallory Shelbourne (42:25):

Hi, general Mallory Shelbourne, USNI News. How are you?

Gen. Smith (42:28):


Mallory Shelbourne (42:29):

Um, I wanted to ask you about the landing ship medium. I, I know we've seen some, uh, or we've heard about some requirements churn on that. Uh, and the CBO put out an analysis yesterday on the Navy's, uh, recent ship building plan and they estimated the landing ship medium to cost about 270 million, which is I think nearly double what, uh, the Navy and Marine Corps had been saying. So do you have any updates on, you know, where, I know the RFP is out, but the Navy hasn't actually given its cost estimate. Do you have any updates on where things are with that program and where you wanna go?

Gen. Smith (43:04):

Yeah, so it, it is vital. Uh, we have said up to 35. Up to 35. Um, but the goal, and I've talked to, to the, within the department of the Navy, we wanna get the first 10 out there very quickly so we can solidify and confirm their, their use. Until then we have a bridging solution using other things like eps, fast transports. Um, they are vital. The, the purpose of them is shore to shore connector. Things like the 12th marine, uh, 12th Marine Littoral Regiment that I just, uh, discussed, that the Japanese government just said, stay here in Japan. Um, they, those LSMs landing ship mediums vital to both move those units into strategic positions in a, in a time period that matters, limited days, then to resupply them, they can also function in that mechanism or in that manner. So now that the request for proposals out, you'll see things come back. And this is where industry and us work together. Uh, industry will say, Hey, this, this particular requirement that's causing your price to almost double do you wanna reconsider? And, and we do it, I was just at the shipyards, uh, last Friday. I went to both Huntington Ingalls to see LPD 29, the McCool and uh, LHA eight, the Bougainville. Um, both moving, both looking good. Which again, that's why we fight so hard for those ships 'cause they do so much and you're seeing that now. Um, the, and then I went by Bollinger, one of the shipyards that will will potentially make a run at, at LSM. So the cost estimates, uh, that's a thing. The cost is a different thing once we begin to negotiate. The requirements are rock solid for us. But as always, when a requirement, as an example, we say a range, I'm, I'm making this up. We say a range is 5,000 miles and they say, you know, that's actually caused me to build a whole new, whole new gas tank. If you cut your range to 4,800 miles instead of 5,000, I can save you 15%. We're probably gonna change that requirement. Um, so that back and forth is just starting so far too soon to say it's gonna cost this or this or this. Hope that answers Mallory.

Carla Babb (45:11):

Alright, right next door, just pass it over and we might get an extra question in.

Gen. Smith (45:15):

Yeah, I'm trying to go as quick as I can to be respectful of y'all's desire. Ask questions.

Chris Cavas (45:19):

Hi sir. Chris Cavas, CavasShips sort of sticking in the same arena right now. You've got a deployed MEUARG group, uh, in the Middle East. It just so happens it's serendipitous that at the moment of crisis you've got an ARG and a MEU out there. That's not been the case so often in recent years. It's been a lot of, lot of breaks in that, uh, in that drumbeat. This is a disaggregated MEU-ARG. So the LPD has been operating in northern Europe and of course in Spain as you, as you just mentioned now, repositioning to the, to the Mediterranean, that LPD program which you just saw, the the Richard McCool, uh, that's on a strategic pause. I don't know what a strategic pause is because that's usually just we stopped buying them. Um, there's no more, there are no plans at the moment to continue procuring that class. But you're decommissioning ships like the Carter Hall, which is stuck with with what's operating with the Bataan. Um, can you talk about the, your force level, your amphibious ship force level, the need for that lift and what we're seeing right now that's you're able to do with this, these dispositions that you can't do if you're going to gonna draw down the force with that?

Gen. Smith (46:25):

Yeah, that's actually really easy for me because the law is 31. Uh, Congress passed a law last year, as you know, that said 31. So that's the requirement. 10 big decks, 21 LPDs. So I focus on what the law says. Admiral Franchetti and I are both in agreement that we must have 31 minimum is, is what the law says, minimum amphibs. So the goal is to replace the aging LSDs with the LPDs. And so, uh, what I won't do is get into OSDs business on pauses. I will simply state the requirement as a service chief, minimum 31 and the landing ship medium. And and when you have those then, and, and obviously we want ship readiness across the fleet to be higher. When I have that, then what you do is you reduce the risk that there's not an ARGMEU an amphibious ready group, marine expeditionary unit on the water. 'Cause it's not about having an amphibious ready group, marine expeditionary unit ready to sail. It's about having them there when or before the crisis unfolds. Because the steaming time to the Pacific can be 30 days. The steaming time across the Atlantic can be seven to 10 days that that's too long. You have to be there. That's why we're fighting so hard to, to find the pathway to minimum 31. And again, I'll.

Chris Canvas (47:40):


Gen. Smith (47:48):

I wouldn't say that. Um, so that RFP out, uh, I'm pretty optimistic on LSM and, but as Marines we're always planners. That's why we have a bridging solution using EPFs ESPs to maximize the ships that we do have. We also have done some stern landing vessel work leasing. We've leased one. We have the option for two more for a total of three. So we're not waiting for that. But I, I won't speak for OSD, I, I just say as a service chief, my req my, uh, obligation is to provide the requirement. I've stated it, the CNO stated it's 31 Congress said, yep, 31. That's the law. So now it's how do we get there? We're actually there now the question is replacing aging LSDs, uh, with newer ships.

Carla Babb (48:31):

And last question, um, Tony, go ahead here.

Tony (48:39):

What is General Glynn's. Role in Israel right now? He's your Deputy Commandant for Manpower, but he's got some publicity. And second, you made an interesting point. We're trained to come get you 11 years after Benghazi. What's the, uh, what is the Marine Corps posture in, uh, I guess it's a road to Spain to conduct rapid hostage risk or rescue missions 11 years later?

Gen. Smith (49:01):

Yeah, I'll do the second one first. Um, our posture, we have troops, uh, marines with aviation assets in Djibouti, as you know. Um, the new normal, if you will, post Benghazi is ideally met by the fact that we have a Marine Expeditionary Unit forward deployed. That's what we want. And then we have forces with our Ospreys, which are globally deployable with KC-130 support, tanker support that we own, that are, that are pushed over, uh, uh, to AFRICOM. So that's how we can range the African continent. Um, and again, the primary is a Marine Expeditionary Unit that's that's there full time. The second piece on, uh, Lieutenant General Jim Glynn, uh, un unfortunate that that you know, is out there with his name. But, uh, Jim's home talked to him last night. Um, he, Lieutenant General Glynn went over to, to provide, uh, you know, uh, advice. But the make no mistake what is, has or will unfold in Gaza is purely an Israeli decision. We, we are not planning with that. He provided his expertise as the lead planner for, for a first Marine Expeditionary Force going into the battle of Fallujah. He was asked to go over, he was a lead planner and said, here's what I learned. So we would call that a professional military exchange. Um, he was over, he's back now. Um, and, um, he provided his experience to be taken, not taken. Um, and he was a pretty jet lagged when I spoke to him. But he's, he's back home and, uh, sleeping. He, he did, he did what he was asked to do and he's back home and I don't speculate. Hear him talking about it. Uh, thanks Tony.

Carla Babb (50:44):

Well, Commandant Eric Smith, thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank you for your time, everybody. Give him a round of applause.

Gen. Smith (50:49):

Thank you all very much. Thank you.