In recent months, the United States Marine Corps has undertaken a cross-training mission with the Australian military, and deployed a record number of Marines, more than 1,500, to Darwin in the Norther Territories of the island nation.
While training with the Australian Defense Force, as with any foreign deployment, Marines were expected to be on their best behavior, as representatives of the United States.
Colonel James Schnelle, 48 years of age, seemed to fail to maintain those standards, however, and has recently been relieved of his command duties. All this occurred due to his decision to drink and drive on the local ‘nightclub strip.’
According to testimony provided to a Darwin Local Court two days ago, Col. Schnelle failed to pass a random breathalyzer test on the city’s Mitchell Street.
This alleged drunk driving incident occurred in the early hours of a Sunday morning, late in September.
According to testimony provided to the court, the Colonel was stopped at an RBT outside of the Darwin Entertainment Center at 2:20 a.m. on September 30.
When they checked his blood-alcohol content, he recorded a ‘mid-range’ reading.
Schnelle had been at the local Shenanigans Restaurant and Bar, and was driving back home to his temporary housing in Larrakeyah, a suburb approximately two miles away.
Following the ‘random breath test,’ and the finding that he was above the legal limit, he walked home.
When he woke in the morning, he emailed his superiors 6:33 a.m. local time concerning the incident, and was called by his superiors at 7:47 local time and relieved of command of the Marine detachment involved in the training.
On Monday in front of an Australian court, he pleaded guilty to driving with a ‘medium-range’ BAC.
His lawyer told the court that he was a man of “very high character,” who had no convictions anywhere in the world and who had contributed to society by the work that he did.
The lawyer also reminded the judge that the U.S. Marines were going to deal with him very harshly for his inebriation.
Schenlle was, after all, the highest ranking Marine in Darwin, and was a decorated commander with three different service awards, and his lawyer pointed out that a conviction in a civilian court would make his career much more difficult in the future.
He also said that any conviction could affect his ability to get promotions and move up the Marine Corps structure in the future.
The Darwin Local Court declined to convict him, and instead demanded a $500 fine, and suspended his license for the next six months.
The court, perhaps out of respect for the Marine officer and the work that the United States does in training with the ADF, allowed his criminal record to remain clean.
More serious was the punishment handed down by the Corps, who relieved Colonel Schnelle due to a loss of “trust and confidence” in his leadership and decision-making abilities.
He was relieved of his command, and will likely be brought back to the United States in short order, where the military will decide what to do to an officer who drove drunk in a foreign nation.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeramy Brady, Schnelle’s former subordinate, will be in charge of the training rotation for the duration of the command, rather than the having the Corps send a new officer in the middle of training.
Although they do not often get a lot of credit for their part in wars, Australia has backed the United States in most of its military endeavors around the world.
Australians, along with a handful of British troops, even followed America into the Vietnam war, though in much more limited numbers.
As such, maintaining positive relations with their government, and the maintenance of a decent public image with the people of the nation, is important, and stunts like Schnelle’s could easily have gone awry and cost the U.S. its goodwill.
If he had caused a car collision or, heaven forbid, a death, like what occurred due to the poor decisions of a Marine in Japan, it could have caused a backlash against the American presence.
Thankfully, the Australian government in Darwin handed down a somewhat lighter sentence, and trusted to the United States Marine Corps to mete out the real punishment.