General Held Up by Senate Confirmation Stall Takes Command of Camp Pendleton’s Largest Fighting Force

by Braxton Taylor

Lt. Gen. Michael S. Cederholm, selected almost 11 months ago to take over the Marines’ largest warfighting unit, finally took the helm at California’s Camp Pendleton, calling the I Marine Expeditionary Force “America’s hammer.”

“We come to fight, and we come to win,” Cederholm said during the long-delayed change of command ceremony held Friday, Feb. 16. “I’m excited to get after it and get into the attack.”

Cederhom, who previously served at the Pentagon as the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation, is taking over the command of the nearly 44,000 Marines and sailors from Lt. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, who had assumed the duties in August when a stall in the Senate confirmation process for general officers kept Cederholm from taking his job.

Cederhom had been nominated for the post by President Joe Biden in March. At least 300 senior military officers within the Department of Defense were impacted by the delay, with some only now taking their new jobs at bases across the nation and beyond.

Before leading the I Marine Expeditionary Force, Gering led the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar, one of the force’s 11 subordinate units. The posting in August to Camp Pendleton delayed his promotion to lieutenant general and his orders to take over as deputy commandant of aviation.

Friday’s ceremony included a moment of silence for five Marines – known as the Flying Tigers from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361– who were killed when their CH-53 Super Stallion crashed on Feb. 6 in Eastern San Diego County.

Senior military leaders at the ceremony included Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. There were also city officials from towns bordering the base and representatives from support groups in Southern California that have adopted battalions within the I Marine Expeditionary Force.

San Clemente Mayor Victor Cabral sat beside Del Toro during the ceremony; he said it was essential to be there, particularly in the wake of the assault of three off-duty Marines by a group of about 20 local teens in the city’s Pier Bowl last summer. It was caught on video and made the rounds on social media.

“We have an excellent relationship with the Marines and have for decades,” Cabral said. “After what happened, maybe it soured it a bit. It was important to be there and show how they’re important to us.”

During his brief command, Gering continued with innovation and increased cooperation with the Navy’s Third Fleet by continuing the force’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, Del Toro said.

“I am filled with pride knowing that IMEF is a firm pillar of our Marine Corps and, indeed, our national defense,” Del Toro said, adding that the world is facing more and more instability from countries such as China and Russia, which remain active threats.

“There are 30,000 Marines and sailors deployed globally as we continue to face threats in the Middle East and the Pacific,” Del Toro said. “This is not commonplace; this is real special. And the American people simply can’t forget that.”

He spoke about the importance of modernization and technology in combat and how that provides the United States “with an edge in combat.”

Under Gering’s leadership, Marines completed a deployment to Australia, where they trained alongside the Australian Defense Force in 11 different exercises. Another group trained in the second iteration of the Marine Rotational Force in Southeast Asia, where they worked with various international forces to ensure “security cooperation.”

Also in the last several months with Gering, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit trained with the Navy’s Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and is preparing to deploy.

Mahoney, who is the Marines’ acting commandant while Gen. Eric Smith, who earlier this year was appointed commandant but is recovering from a heart attack, was previously also the commanding general for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. He also remarked about the 7-month delay in Cederholm taking his role, but spoke to the Corps’ resiliency.

“We live by the maxim, ‘Next Marine up,’ and Gering was the next Marine up,” he said.

Mahoney said he looked forward to what Cederholm would accomplish as commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force.

“Your strategic vision, your operational acumen and your truck-stop wisdom has become legendary,” Mahoney said. “I know you will continue to push forward.”

Cederholm, 58, is an aviator by training and was the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commander before heading to the Pentagon in 2022. The son of a Marine helicopter pilot, he and his wife have five children.

“I’m honored to serve you and will 24/7, 365 days a year,” Cederholm told the units gathered Friday on the parade field representing the I Marine Expeditionary Force. “I stand in awe of the sacrifice you make and will make. I truly look forward to writing the next chapter. I MEF is America’s hammer. Love you guys.”

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