Maj. Gen. Stephen Neary has been relieved of command of U.S. Marines in Europe and Africa while the service investigates allegations he used a racial slur that denigrates Black people, the Corps said Tuesday.
Marine Commandant Gen. David H. Berger relieved Neary on Monday “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to serve in command,” the Corps said in a statement.
The Marine Corps previously said that the investigation was connected to the use of a racial slur but declined to go into detail.
Stars and Stripes reported earlier this month that the two-star general’s actions were being probed for using the word during a training event at his Stuttgart-area headquarters.
The incident occurred in August on the parade field outside Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa headquarters in Boeblingen, Germany. A lance corporal who was present told Stars and Stripes that Neary used the N-word while Marines were doing physical training outdoors with loud music playing. Some of the rap music incorporated the word, which prompted Neary to ask the junior Marines how they would feel if he said it, the lance corporal said.
The Marine, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said Black, white and Latino Marines were jolted when the general said the word. Even if Neary was attempting to be instructive about the taboo nature of the word, it came as a shock to hear it from a white general officer, the lance corporal said.
“He lost respect right there,” the Marine said.
As the weeks passed and Neary remained in command, several Marines brought the matter to the attention of Stars and Stripes.
The incident came at a time of racial upheaval in the U.S. and inside the military as troops grappled with how to respond to police-brutality cases that have sparked protests in U.S. cities in recent months.
In August, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police in May served as a “wake-up call” for 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,” Esper said during a security forum.
The unrest triggered by Floyd’s and others’ deaths prompted the military to reexamine instances of racism in the ranks and sparked calls for a more inclusive military culture.
The Marine Corps, which has long faced questions about a lack of diversity within its senior ranks, has taken some steps to deal with racism. In June, it banned all Confederate battle flags from being displayed on its bases. Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger 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,” Berger said.
Neary, who assumed command of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa in July, previously served as deputy commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Boston native was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1988 after graduating from Virginia Military Institute.
Col. James T. Iulo will serve as the acting commander until a replacement is determined, the Marines said Tuesday.
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