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31st MEU commander resigns on Okinawa amid inquiry

Col. John E. Merna, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, talks with local leadership on the ground during the humanitarian response in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, Nov. 18, 2013.

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The commander of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, considered the U.S. military’s pre-eminent amphibious fighting force in the Asia-Pacific region, has been forced out for allegedly creating a hostile work environment at the unit’s headquarters, Marine Corps officials said Tuesday.

Col. John Merna resigned following a preliminary inquiry within the command element into allegations of “intemperate behavior” and “language,” according to a Marine Corps statement. The allegations were first made in a command climate survey.

Merna’s resignation was accepted by Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. Merna has been in command of the 31st MEU since June 1, 2012.

“Merna, a combat veteran and a widely respected leader, recognized his incompatibility to continue leading the 31st MEU, accepted responsibility and accountability for his actions, and immediately tendered a letter requesting termination of his command authority and responsibility,” the statement said.

Executive officer Lt. Col. G. Troy Roesti was appointed interim commander, the statement said. Wissler will make a final determination in regard to any additional action based upon a detailed review of the inquiry and climate survey.

Neither Wissler nor Merna were available to comment further Tuesday, according to a Marine spokesman. The inquiry and survey also were not available.

Merna was commissioned as an officer in 1990 after his graduation from Florida State University, according to his Marine Corps biography. He served in Operation Desert Storm and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming a company commander by 1993. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-06.

The 31st MEU has been dubbed the “nation’s force-in-readiness” in the region and includes about 2,200 Marines and sailors, according to a Marine Corps website. They are widely regarded as the tip of the spear for everything from humanitarian assistance to amphibious assaults in the region.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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