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Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, center, relinquished command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, right, on Sept. 11, 2015.
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, center, relinquished command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, right, on Sept. 11, 2015. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, center, relinquished command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, right, on Sept. 11, 2015.
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, center, relinquished command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, right, on Sept. 11, 2015. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)
Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson meets with the media after taking command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force on Sept. 11, 2015.
Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson meets with the media after taking command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force on Sept. 11, 2015. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, center, relinquishes command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, right, on Sept. 11, 2015. 

Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, center, relinquishes command of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, right, on Sept. 11, 2015. Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As Lt. Gen. John Wissler stepped down as the top U.S. Marine in Japan on Friday – the anniversary of 9/11 — he thanked the men and women in his charge who have kept “the wolf away from the door” since the terror attacks claimed 2,977 lives 14 years ago.

Wissler turned over the command colors and responsibility of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson in front of columns of Marines and a massive American flag during a small ceremony on the Camp Foster parade grounds.

Wissler said he was able to succeed due to the proficiency of the Marines under him and because of the invaluable partnerships between allies. The ceremony was attended by representatives from the Australian, South Korean, Japanese and British militaries.

“Those Marines are the ones who truly make a difference,” he said. “They make a difference every day. … Their sacrifices have allowed them to save lives and ease suffering.”

Nicholson, who arrived from a command assignment with the 1st Marine Division, vowed to strengthen partnerships and to be ready in response to any crisis or humanitarian operation.

“Your MEF will be ready whenever you need it,” he told Lt. Gen. John Toolan Jr., commander of Marine forces in the Pacific. Then, he turned to his Marines and sailors before him. “I will give you everything I’ve got. I will spare nothing. I expect the same of you.”

Both Wissler and Nicholson are Marine parents. Nicholson said he had patrolled in both Fallujah, Iraq, and Helmand province, Afghanistan, with his children, who have served. He vowed to “get it right” because each Marine is someone’s son or daughter.

Wissler took over as commander in July 2013 and calmly guided the Corps in Japan through an uneasy period of North Korean provocations and Chinese intrusions. He oversaw humanitarian operations in the Philippines during Operation Damayan and Nepal during Operation Sahayogi Haat in May.

During his tenure, Wissler was able to largely stay above the fray while the U.S. and Japanese political leadership handled the crisis regarding the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab.

The Japanese media on Friday asked Nicholson to weigh in, but he said that it was an issue for the political leaders to iron out. He said he would continue to support the process.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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