The search for a new commandant at The Citadel moves into the final round with a local figure in the running.

Army Col. Richard C. Townes, commanding officer of the college's Army ROTC unit, is one of three finalists announced Tuesday.

His competitors are:

-- Marine Col. Leo A. Mercado, secretary of the general staff at Marine Corps headquarters in Arlington, Va.

-- Marine Col. David J. Mollahan, director of the division of Humanities and Social Sciences at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Townes, a 1983 Citadel graduate, has been at The Citadel since 2007. He's a professor of military science, as well as ROTC commander. His previous experience includes leadership positions at Fort Benning, Ga., the Pentagon and Fort Hood, Texas.

Mercado also graduated from The Citadel, in 1979. He's commanded a Marine training battalion for officers and drill instructors, as well as a security battalion. He also was chief of staff for the Marine Corps Professional Military Education command.

Mollahan started his job at Annapolis in 2007. Before that he was commander of Marine Aircraft Group 26 at the Marine Corps Air Station in New River, N.C.

The finalists will be invited to The Citadel for interviews as early as next week, Media Relations Coordinator Charlene Gunnells said.

The Citadel's president, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, is expected to make a recommendation to the board of visitors at its June meeting.

The commandant, under the direction of the president, oversees the 2,100 members of the Corps of Cadets. Retired Army Col. Greg Stone announced this month that he would step down May 29 from the position he held for four years.

He said at the time that he was considering returning to his hometown of Seattle, but has since accepted a job in the private sector in Columbus, Ga., Gunnells said.

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Commandant to step down, published 04/10/09

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or dmunday@postandcourier.com.