Col. Philip Stemple, one of the highest-ranking members of the Nebraska National Guard, has been removed as commander of a Nebraska brigade in Iraq and will be sent home next week, an Army spokesman said Thursday.
Stemple's dismissal comes just six weeks before the brigade is expected to return home.
U.S. Army leaders in Iraq relieved Stemple of his duties this week after a military investigation found that “there was an environment in the command not conducive to the standards and expectations of leadership,” said Army Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Iraq.
Speaking from Baghdad, Johnson said he couldn't offer specifics of the investigation, other than to say that it documented a “negative command climate” in the Nebraska Guard's 67th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.
“This negative command climate ... led to leaders here losing confidence in his ability to command,” Johnson said.
Stemple, 50, lives in Lincoln but has spent most of his Guard career in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area. He was previously deployed to Iraq during the U.S. troop “surge.”
Being relieved of command might derail what had been a promising Guard career — Nebraska Guard officials and soldiers had expected Stemple to be named a general and potentially return to the East Coast after his deployment, sources said.
The 67th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade includes 350 Nebraska National Guard members. The brigade, which also includes soldiers from Montana, Connecticut and Utah, has spent the past eight months fanned across Iraq.
Its members spy on insurgents and teach Iraqi security forces how to gather intelligence, according to previous interviews with Stemple and other Guard leaders in Iraq.
No one in the brigade has been killed or seriously wounded in Iraq, Lt. Col. Brett Andersen, the brigade's executive officer, said in an email interview last week. Andersen has been tapped to replace Stemple as battalion commander.
Brig. Gen. Judd Lyons, adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard, wasn't available for comment Thursday, a Guard spokesman said.
Guard leaders refused to detail what will happen when Stemple returns to Nebraska. They couldn't immediately say how unusual it was for a Nebraska Guard commander to be relieved of command while deployed to a war zone.
In several interviews last year, Stemple exuded confidence in the brigade's abilities to complete its mission in Iraq. That mission was noteworthy because it started just after the last U.S. combat forces left Iraq, part of a withdrawal from that country that may be complete next year.
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