Gen. David H. Berger is the right person to lead the Marine Corps in this era of great power competition with Russia and China, Acting Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said at a ceremony in which Berger became the 38th commandant of the Marine Corps.
Berger succeeded Gen. Robert B. Neller, who passed command to Berger at Marine Barracks Washington today. As the commandant, Berger is now a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I can think of no better leader to assume the duties of commandant," Esper said. "He understands well the challenges we face in today's complex, strategic environment. He is a visionary who has committed to marching the Marine Corps down the path to modernizing for future warfare."
Esper added that Berger has proven throughout his career that he possesses the intellect, the stamina and the courage needed to succeed in this demanding position.
Neller was "born to lead Marines," Esper said, and his leadership was especially crucial in the Marine Corps' pivot from counterinsurgency operations to a renewed emphasis on training for the high-intensity fight against competitors such as Russia and China.
As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Esper said, Neller was known for accomplishing the mission and providing candor in military advice. "He could always be counted on to advocate for the men and women of the Corps and of the joint force," he said. "He's a Marine's Marine, beloved by his subordinates, who would follow him into any battle."
Neller said he's been asked what he'd like to be remembered for during his tenure as commandant. "We're a little bit better placed, we're a little more ready, we're a little bit better trained, we've got a little bit better equipment, but that's come through a lot of hard work from the Marines," he said.
He and his "battle buddy" — his wife, D'Arcy — plan to retire in Texas, Neller said.
Berger said becoming commandant is not the greatest honor he has experienced. "I consider it a privilege just to wear the uniform and stand in your ranks," he told the Marines at the ceremony. "Just to call yourself a Marine is the greatest honor."
Esper also praised the Marine Corps. "When America needs a job done well," he said, "she can continue to count on the few and the proud to accomplish the mission."
Video: Esper Speaks at Marine Corps Commandant Passage of Command Ceremony