STUTTGART, Germany — When asked what touched him the most about his job, Marine Sgt. Major John M. Mersino said it was the young troops.

The senior enlisted adviser for the U.S. European Command compared them to the revered “greatest generation” of World War II.

“I don’t think America is watching the generation that is growing up right under their noses,” said Mersino, 51. “They’re a lot like that generation in my judgment — they go the extra mile and are mature beyond their years.

“We’re asking them to do a whole lot more than we have a right to ask them to do, and they welcome the challenge.”

Mersino was honored at a dinner Saturday night as he enters his final days as EUCOM’s command sergeant major.

There will be a few more fetes in his honor before the farm boy from Michigan retires after 32 years in the corps. Saturday’s event at the Swabian Inn on Patch Barracks was for his enlisted colleagues, who toasted him as a compassionate patriot and motivator.

A slide show showed Mersino mingling with Iraqi children and visiting hospitalized troops.

“To a person,” Mersino said of the wounded, “they’ve said, ‘When can I get better?’ and, ‘When can I get back to my unit and get back in the fight?’ ”

After the slide show, Mersino strolled among the approximately 120 guests, weaving between the white linen-covered dinner tables as he made his parting remarks, picking out people by name, extolling the troops while taking gentle jabs at the brass.

“I’ve never seen a general pull a trigger,” he said. “Never seen a colonel pull one, either.”

As the top enlisted troop in the European command, which includes every U.S. Marine, airman, soldier and sailor in Europe, most of Africa and Russia, Mersino’s job ranged from advocating for the most junior servicemember to advising four-star generals.

“The effect he has on my troops is just so profound,” said 1st Lt. Frank Small of the 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation, one of the few officers in Saturday’s crowd. Small often flew Mersino by helicopter to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to visit the wounded.

“He has a personal touch. To every single one of my soldiers he showed genuine care and concern. That’s a rarity. One of my guys doesn’t want to be an officer anymore; he wants to be a sergeant major,” Small said.

“No matter who he comes in contact with, he just has a way of making that person feel comfortable,” said Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe.

“He reaches out to the families as well,” added Allen’s wife, Angela.

EUCOM’s next senior enlisted officer could be announced by the end of the month. Candidates are nominated by the top enlisted members of the four service branches: chief master sergeant of the Air Force, the master chief petty officer of the Navy, and sergeants major of the Army and Marine Corps.

The nominees will be reviewed by EUCOM’s deputy commander, Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, who will then make his recommendation to EUCOM commander Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who will make the selection.

Mersino said he planned to take a civilian job in Europe after he retires.

“I’m yesterday’s news,” he told the crowd, motivating to the very end. “Everyone in this room is tomorrow’s headline.”

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