US Marine colonel in Australia relieved of duties over drink driving

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - The head of a contingent of United States Marines based in Australia's northern city of Darwin was relieved of his command after police caught him drink driving on a night out, a corps spokesman said on Monday (Oct 8).

About 1,587 US Marines are stationed in the tropical city, strategically located on the coastal doorstep of Indonesia, as part of an annual rotation begun in 2011 in former President Barack Obama's military pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

Colonel James Schnelle was relieved of his duties last month "due to a loss of trust and confidence", immediately after reporting the incident to superiors, the spokesman, First Lieutenant Jose Uriarte, told Reuters.

Schnelle had been drinking at an Irish-themed bar on the city's nightclub strip until the early hours of Sept 30 when he was pulled over and breath-tested, Australian Broadcasting Corporation said.

Police found him over the legal alcohol limit, the broadcaster said, and he walked the 3.4km home and informed his superiors. In court he was fined A$500 (S$488) but not convicted after pleading guilty, it added.

Schnelle had no comment, Uriarte said.

The Marine deployment, in a city that has long supported a garrison of thousands of Australian troops, has largely been free of the tension stoked at times in Okinawa, Japan, where soldiers' bad behaviour has been a lightning rod for resentment.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeramy Brady will replace Schnelle in charge of the Darwin Marines' contingent, which is scheduled to leave Darwin this month, and the matter is being investigated internally, Uriarte said.