Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller, a veteran infantry officer who commanded troops in Iraq from 2005 to 2007, has been selected to serve as the Marine Corps’ new top officer, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Wednesday.
The general’s nomination was announced in a news conference at the Pentagon. Carter called Neller a warrior, leader and statesman, and said they first got to know each other when Neller was the director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. They collaborated on providing urgent needs to combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and traveled to the war zone together.
“He loves them, he relates to them and they light up when he talks to them,” Carter said of Neller’s interactions with rank-and-file service members. “I know he will be a magnificent commandant for the Marines serving all over the world.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Neller will replace Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, who is expected to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this fall. The two generals appeared alongside Carter and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Wednesday for the announcement.
“I fully support LtGen Bob Neller’s nomination to serve as our 37th Commandant,” Dunford said afterward in a statement released by the service. “He has commanded and excelled at every level throughout his four decades of service. He is a proven combat leader and an innovative, strategic thinker. He will take great care of our Marines, Sailors, and their families. Our Corps will thrive with Bob Neller at the helm.”
Neller, 62, is known as a no-nonsense leader and a student of military history. He served for the past year as the commander of both Marine Corps Forces Europe and Marine Corps Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., which oversees and provides Marines for deployments overseas. In addition to his assignment with the Joint Staff, he previously served as the commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, which oversees Marine operations in the Middle East; and as president of Marine Corps University at Quantico, Va.
In Iraq, Neller was commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), which deployed to Anbar province. Earlier in his career, he deployed to Panama in 1989 as part of Operation Just Cause, in which dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed, and to Somalia in 1993 as part of Operation Restore Hope. He also served as a staff officer in the policy division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Casteau, Belgium.
Neller can be gruff, but also is deeply invested in caring for Marines wounded in combat and the families of those who are killed. In a Veteran’s Day address at Old Dominion University in Norfolk last year, he emotionally recalled encountering a Marine in 2006 who had just lost a friend in a bomb blast, and added that there is no glory in war.
“There is glory in sacrifice,” he added, according to an Old Dominion account of the speech. “There is glory in comradeship. There is glory in service to our nation.”
More recently, he told the independent Marine Corps Times that he was launching a campaign to curb drunk driving by Marines. He did so after hearing about a lieutenant who was killed by a fellow Marine in an accident in California.
“I read that and said, “OK, that’s enough,'” Neller told Marine Corps Times.
In a two-page document released last summer, Neller preached to his Marines the virtues of preparation for the future and teamwork.
“Everything we do must start with proper planning,” Neller said in the document. “We must rapidly analyze the mission, develop courses of action and implement them. Time and money will always be short supply, therefore, we cannot afford to go anywhere or do anything without adequately considering the options. If we want to ‘WIN,’ we cannot ‘just show up.'”
Neller joined the Marine Corps in 1975, earning a commission as an officer after graduating from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in history and speech communication, according to his official biography. A native of East Lansing, Mich., he later earned a master’s degree in human resource management from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
Speculation about Neller’s candidacy for the top Marine Corps job increased in recent days. Other generals rumored to have received consideration include Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command; Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the director for joint force development with the Joint Staff; and Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey, the Marine deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.
This piece has been updated several times.