WASHINGTON — The Navy has issued letters of no confidence to three Navy officers and two Navy officers in connection with the 2020 sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle off the coast of Southern California that killed eight Marines and one Sailor.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro accused the officers of “inadequate leadership and performance of their supervisory duties” in a statement Monday. Letters of no confidence are placed in military personnel files and often end military officers’ careers, usually preventing them from further promotion or other advancement.
A Marine Corps investigation found that inadequate training, shoddy maintenance and poor executive judgment led to the sinking of the amphibious assault vehicle on July 30, 2020 in one of the deadliest Marine training casualties in decades.
The vehicle – a type of seagoing tank – had 16 people on board when it quickly sank in 117 meters of water off the coast of San Clemente Island. Seven Marines were rescued when the ship returned to a Navy ship for a training exercise.
Del Toro said Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, failed to recognize and address the risks of the exercise, including training and safety errors. He said Osterman, who is now retired, also failed to recognize the impact of COVID-19 on the exercise, forcing commanders to adjust the timing and compress the schedule.
Del Toro said Col. Christopher Bronzi, who served as commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, either knew or should have known that pre-deployment water training was ongoing and that the amphibious vehicles were “in a degraded state of readiness.” were.
“The investigations determined that critical safety measures were not implemented during the accident,” Del Toro said. “The responsibility for these errors lies with you.”
In a letter of no confidence to Navy Capt. Stewart Bateshansky, Del Toro pointed out “gaps and seams” in the planning of the exercise. He said that while Bateshansky, the amphibious task force commander for the exercise, reduced the complexity of the planned event, his instructions to lower-level commanders were not clear about the possibility of aborting or delaying the beach launch.
Navy Captain John Kurtz, the commanding officer on the USS Somerset, was reprimanded for failing to ensure the safe operation of the amphibious vessels.
Del Toro said that although “the investigation has not determined that any acts or omissions of the USS Somerset caused the sinking,” he said that the Kurtz crew was “poor about the risks and actions required” for the safe operation of the amphibious vehicles was informed.
He said Lt. Col. Keith Brenize, commander of the 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion, did not ensure the platoon was trained for the mission and the vehicles operational. “While not a single decision or action resulted in this mishap, your decisions and actions set the conditions for this mishap to occur,” Del Toro said.
Eric Dubin, attorney for the families of seven of the soldiers killed, said in a statement that his clients are glad the military is taking action against the leadership involved.
“We are pleased that the military is continuing to investigate this deadly tragedy and is finding accountability and answers,” Dubin said in a statement. But he said the families would not be compensated because of a legal theory known as the Feres Doctrine, which dictates that troops cannot sue the federal government for injuries sustained while serving in the military, except in cases of medical malpractice.
The Marines use the amphibious vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to shore. Armed with machine guns and grenade launchers, the armored vehicles look like tanks as they roll ashore for beach assaults, from which Marines pour out to take up positions.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/13/navy-censures-5-in-deadly-sinking-of-amphibious-vehicle/ Navy fines 5 for fatally sinking amphibious vehicle