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SYDNEY, Australia — America’s highest ranking Marine Corps officer stationed in Australia was relieved of his command last month after he was arrested on drunken driving charges in Darwin, the military said on Monday after the officer, Col. James Schnelle, pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle at twice the legal blood-alcohol limit.
“I am personally responsible for the poor judgment exhibited in the early hours of Sunday 30 September,” Colonel Schnelle said in a statement, adding he was “guilty for the charges rendered.”
Colonel Schnelle oversaw a contingent of more than 1,500 Marines stationed in Darwin, a city in northern Australia on the doorstep of Southeast Asia. American Marines have been stationed in the city since 2012, and their numbers have steadily grown since then.
Colonel Schnelle was randomly tested by police officers in the early hours of Sept. 30 while returning from a Darwin bar. A breathalyzer test revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.102 percent, double the 0.05 percent legal limit in Australia.
In a local court in Darwin, he pleaded guilty and avoided a criminal conviction, but his license was suspended for six months and he was ordered to pay a fine of 500 Australian dollars, about $350, the Australian Associated Press reported.
Colonel Schnelle turned himself in to his superiors on Sept. 30. He was soon after relieved of his duties “due to a loss of trust and confidence,” Lt. Jose Uriarte, a Marine spokesman, said in a statement. “A command investigation has been initiated.”
Lt. Col. Jeramy Brady will take over the program, known as Marine Rotational Force Darwin.
There have been seven rotations of Marines deployed to Australia for six-month periods to undergo training alongside the Australian Defense Force. The program, which started with 200 Marines, has steadily grown. Now 1,587 Marines are stationed in northern Australia, and officials from both Australia and the United States vowed this year to increase that number to 2,500.
The current rotation arrived in April and has worked in security cooperation activities and responded to regional disasters, the Marines said in a statement.