WASHINGTON — A two-star general recently assigned to command Marine forces in Europe and Africa has been relieved of duty amid an investigation into whether he used a racial slur during a training exercise last summer.
Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, removed Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Neary on Monday “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to serve in command,” the service said in a statement released Tuesday.
The newspaper Stars and Stripes reported this month that General Neary’s subordinates had contacted reporters to say that he used a racial slur during a training event in August at his headquarters near Stuttgart, Germany, while rap music was playing in the background.
A spokesman for the Marines, Capt. Joseph Butterfield, confirmed that the action against General Neary was part of the ongoing investigation; he said he was not aware of how long senior Marine officers knew of the complaint.
“Preliminary findings in the investigation led to the decision to relieve him,” he said.
General Neary assumed his duties on July 8.
The Marine Corps is much smaller than the Army, Navy and Air Force, with fewer general officers, making his removal all the more striking.
The military, like every institution in America, has struggled with race issues within its ranks, with the debate brought to the fore in recent months.
The Marine Corps in particular has lagged other branches in integrating and promoting women and minorities. It has not had anyone other than a white man in its most senior leadership posts, and since the Marines first admitted Black troops in 1942, only 25 African-Americans have obtained the rank of general.
General Berger, aware of the service’s reputation, has sought to quell perceptions that the Corps is failing to keep up with a changing nation.
In April, he wrote that the Confederate battle flag “has the power to inflame feelings of division,” and called to “exclude from our corps public displays” of the flag.
In June, as protests swept the nation after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer, General Berger issued a statement noting, “There is no place in our corps for racists, whether their intolerance and prejudice be direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional.”
He added: “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.”
That same month, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said the entire military would find ways to increase the percentage of minority service members in its predominantly white officer corps.
Col. James T. Iulo will serve as the acting commander of Marine forces in Europe and Africa until a replacement is determined. The mission includes training in North Africa, particularly with the Moroccans and the Tunisians.