On Tuesday, it was announced that the top Marine Corps officer for Europe and Africa, Major General Stephen Neary, was relieved of his command following an investigation for the alleged use of a racial slur.
Maj. Gen. Neary was relieved of his command of Marine Forces Europe and Africa by General David Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps due to a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to serve in command.”
Neary had only assumed the command of Marine Forces Europe and Africa on July 8.
Stars and Stripes was the first to report that Maj. Gen. Neary was under investigation for the alleged use of a racial slur. The incident in question occurred in August during physical training outside the Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa headquarters in Böblingen, Germany outside of Stuttgart.
According to the report, Neary had joined a group of Marines who were conducting physical training on a parade field. In the background, loud rap music was playing which included the use of the “N-word.” Neary then asked the Marines how they would feel if he used that word. And he apparently did so, according to a lance corporal who was present. A lance corporal who spoke to Stars and Stripes under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution said that even if Maj. Gen. Neary had been attempting to illustrate the taboo nature of the word, it came as a shock to hear it from “a white general officer.”
“He lost respect right there,” the lance corporal added.
Several weeks following the incident, several Marines who were present that August morning were upset that Maj. Gen. Neary was still in command and went public to Stars and Stripes.
After the Stars and Stripes piece first published, the Marine Corps confirmed that it was aware of the allegations and that appropriate actions, “regardless of rank,” would be taken if the allegations were substantiated.
Public Affairs Officer Captain Joseph Butterfield told the Marine Corps Times that despite the general being relieved of his command, the investigation is still ongoing. However, enough information about the incident was forthcoming that General Berger acted and relieved Maj. Gen. Neary of his command.
A native of Boston, Maj. Gen. Neary had joined the Marine Corps in 1988 after graduating from the Virginia Military Institue, (VMI). He had served as a company commander in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the first Gulf War and was a battalion commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Neary had also previously served as deputy commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Back in August, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had said that the killing of George Floyd served as a “wake-up call” for race relations inside the military.
“I don’t think what everybody [in the Defense Department’s leadership] appreciated, at least me, personally, is the depth of sentiment out there among our service members of color, particularly Black Americans, about how much [impact] the killing of George Floyd… had on them, and what they are experiencing in the ranks, as well… We must do better.”
The Marine Corps, in particular, has also suffered from the stigma that it doesn’t promote general officers of color. Although it is smaller than the Navy, Army, and the Air Force, it has had only 25 general officers who were African-American.
In June, Commandant Berger had decided to ban all Confederate battle flags from being displayed on Marine bases. He had said there would be no tolerance for prejudice or any expression of bias, “direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional.”
“The trust Marines place in one another on a daily basis demands this. Only as a unified force, free from discrimination, racial inequality and prejudice can we fully demonstrate our core values, and serve as the elite war-fighting organization America requires and expects us to be,” Berger had added.
Col. James T. Iulo will serve as the acting commander of U.S. Marine Forces Europe and Africa until a suitable replacement is identified, according to Marine officials.