Marine 2-Star Under Investigation for Racial Slur Has Been Relieved of Command

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Neary, commanding general, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, stands at attention during his change of command ceremony on Camp Lejeune, N.C., on June 5, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samuel Lyden)
Military.com | By Gina Harkins

A Marine general officer was removed from a high-profile post overseeing troops in Europe and Africa as an investigation continues into claims that he used a degrading term about Black people in front of his troops.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Neary was relieved as head of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa on Monday by the service's top general. Commandant Gen. David Berger lost trust and confidence in Neary's ability to lead, the service announced Tuesday.

Neary did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his relief. He remains under investigation after reportedly using the N-word while his Marines were conducting physical training while listening to rap music outside the command's headquarters in Germany, Stars and Stripes reported earlier this month.

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After the word was used in one of the songs, Neary asked junior Marines how they would feel if he said it, a lance corporal told the paper. Black, white and Latino Marines "were jolted when the general said the word," according to Stripes, which spoke to individuals who witnessed the event.

"He lost respect right there," a Marine told the paper.

Though the investigation into the allegations remains ongoing, Capt. Joe Butterfield, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said the probe's initial findings led Berger to lose confidence in Neary's ability to lead the command.

Neary assumed duties as commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa in July. The command oversees hundreds of Marines assigned to locations across Europe and Africa.

Col. James Iulo will serve as the acting commander until a replacement is determined, according to the Marine Corps. Information about Neary's current assignment was not immediately available.

The investigation follows a military-wide effort to end racism in the ranks as cities across the country continue seeing protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody earlier this year.

The Marine Corps in June became the first service to officially ban Confederate flag displays on base, and Berger said last month that signs of racism in the service must immediately be rooted out.

"Nothing crushes cohesion faster," he said at a September event hosted by Defense One. "... It just starts to tear apart the fabric at the tactical level. We can't have that."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper in July outlined a series of steps each service should take to eliminate discrimination, prejudice and bias in the ranks.

"Hard work remains, and we will continue to learn as we move forward," Esper said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: Marine General Under Investigation for Allegations He Used a Racial Slur, Corps Confirms