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Naval officer at risk of firing due to training incident


CAMP PENDLETON, CALIFORNIA (AP) – A group of Marine Corps experts met yesterday to decide whether an officer should be removed from duty for the sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle in the ocean off the coast from Southern California which killed nine servicemen.

Lt. Col. Michael J Regner was relieved of command of the Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shortly after the crash off San Clemente Island on 30 July 2020. A Marine Corps statement at the time said his dismissal was based on “a substantial amount of information and data” and cited a loss of confidence.

If the board of inquiry, made up of three officers, determines that Regner should be removed from his post, he could potentially lose his retirement benefits and privileges. The hearing is expected to last up to four days.

Marine Corps investigation found inadequate training, lousy maintenance and poor judgment on the part of leaders led to the sinking of a tank of sailors in one of the deadliest maritime training accidents for decades.

The amphibious assault vehicle had 16 people on board when it sank rapidly in 385 feet of water. Seven Marines were rescued as the ship returned to a Navy vessel for a training exercise.

The American flag is half-masted at Park Semper Fi in San Clemente, California. PHOTO: AP

The Marines use the vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land. Armored vehicles equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers look like tanks when they land ashore for beach attacks, Marines come out to take up position.

Col. Christopher J Bronzi, who oversaw Regner, was relieved of command of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit last year.

The investigation revealed inadequate training for platoon members who received amphibious assault vehicles that had not been used for over a year and were in “poor condition”. The platoon made urgent repairs to meet a deadline, according to the investigation.

It took 45 minutes for the tank to sink and had the distress signal been detected earlier, it is likely that rescuers could have saved the troops, according to the report. But there were no safety boats nearby.

As water levels continued to rise, troops who had only trained on land remained inside the broken down tank in rougher seas than expected, the findings said.

They were not told to remove their helmets, weapons and other equipment, preventing them from being able to escape. Their life jackets may also have prevented them from removing their bulletproof vests and proved to be unnecessary in keeping them afloat due to the weight, according to the investigation.