Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has selected a seasoned Marine Corps general and battlefield commander to take over as his new top military assistant, after allegations of misconduct led to the firing of his predecessor.
Marine Brig. Gen. Eric Smith will become the Pentagon chief’s new senior military adviser, two Defense Department sources said Tuesday. They confirmed the move, first reported by Defense One, on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been announced.
Smith replaces Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Lewis, who was fired by Carter last month amid undisclosed allegations of misconduct. The move was considered highly unusual at the time because it occurred prior to the allegations being substantiated through a formal investigation. A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post at the time that Lewis was accused of being involved in an improper relationship.
[Earlier coverage: Pentagon chief Ashton Carter fires his senior military adviser]
Like Lewis, Smith has served previously under Carter as an aide in uniform. Smith was assigned in 2013 as the senior military assistant to Carter when Lewis deployed to Afghanistan to command a brigade of soldiers. More recently in June, Smith became the first full-time commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces South, after the service established the position to solidify the service’s increasing emphasis on the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
The selection makes Smith, a one-star general, a rising star in the Pentagon and puts him in line potentially for a large promotion. The top military assistant to the defense secretary is traditionally a three-star general. Lewis was a two-star general when Carter picked him for the job in February, and promoted afterward this year.
Smith joined the Marine Corps in 1987 as a lieutenant after graduating from Texas A&M University. He deployed as part of the first Gulf War that spanned late 1990 and early 1991, and again to Liberia as part of Operation Assured Response, in which Americans were evacuated from the west African country in 1996 during civil unrest.
Smith later served as a U.S. military officer in Venezuela from 2001 to 2003, and deployed twice as an infantry officer in Iraq between 2003 and 2006, according to his military biography. He served afterward as a senior aide to the commandant of the Marine Corps and as a colonel developing war doctrine at Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Va.
Beginning in early 2011, Smith was the top officer of Regimental Combat Team 8 in Afghanistan, commanding thousands of Marines in northern Helmand province as they launched a major assault that fall from the insurgent hotbed of Sangin north toward Kajaki district. He became a brigadier general and returned to Quantico as the service’s director of capability development in June 2012.