Naval officer blames misinformation for sinking tragedy


CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) – A Marine Corps battalion commander said on Friday he would have retrospectively stopped the exercise that killed nine of his Marines whose amphibious assault vehicle sank off the south coast from California, but at the time he had no precise information to make such a decision.

Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner said his decisions were based in part on what other commanders told him, including that all the Marines had obtained their swim certification and that the aging vehicles they were in had were repaired and were ready for the mission.

He said he was also unaware that the Navy had changed their plans that day and had not launched a safety boat.

“If I had known that at the time, I would have said ‘No, we won’t go into the ocean without a safety boat,’” Regner said.

Regner gave his account to a panel of three agents during a commission of inquiry. This panel will make a recommendation to the commanding general of Regner’s unit as to whether the decorated officer, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, should be considered dismissed from his post just before his 20s and be denied awards. retirement benefits.

However, a decision is not expected until later this month and will follow pending commissions of inquiry for other agents, including one slated for next Tuesday.

A Marine Corps investigation found that inadequate training, lousy maintenance and poor judgment on the part of the leadership led on July 30, 2020, to the sinking of the amphibious assault vehicle in one of the crashes in deadliest sea training in decades.

The vehicle – a sort of navigation tank – had 16 people on board when it sank rapidly in 385 feet of water off the coast of San Clemente Island. Seven Marines were rescued as the ship returned to a Navy vessel for a training exercise.

Regner was relieved of command of the Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shortly after the sinking. A Marine Corps statement at the time said his withdrawal was based on a “substantial amount of information and data” and cited a loss of confidence.

The government argued during Friday’s hearing that while Regner is not alone to blame for the tragedy, his “substandard” leadership laid the groundwork for things to turn out as badly as possible. ‘they did.

Lt. Col. Michael McDonald said in the Army’s closing statement that Regner decided to risk sending his inexperienced and unfinished Marines training, including how to escape vehicles, into the ocean.

“It was just an absolute comedy of errors,” said McDonald. “It didn’t come out of the blue.”

Regner’s attorney said the panel’s task is to determine whether Regner is of value to the Marine Corps and has potential for future service, which he argued his client has clearly demonstrated.

“He never shied away from his responsibilities,” said Major Cory Carver, Regner’s attorney.

Regner became moved when he explained that he had served his country “his entire adult life”, becoming a Marine as the United States went to war after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

He said he has excelled throughout his career, including the past 18 months after being relieved of his command and assigned to another job.

“Hell, I grew up in there,” Regner said, wiping away a tear. “My father was a sailor. I was brought up by the Marine Corps.

Regner said he was aware that 12 of the 13 amphibious assault vehicles his Marines would use for training were having problems, but another battalion commander who overseas the vehicles assured him they would be repaired before exercise.

He said he had tried to get additional training from his Marines in the water and warned senior officials that his troops had never done this type of exercise.

He said he was limited by a number of factors, including the fact that the Marines had to cut back on their preparations after being deployed to the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration and then faced restrictions. due to the coronavirus pandemic which interrupted their training.

But he said he was led to believe by a company commander that all of them had been certified as swimmers, although two of the soldiers had not.

Other Marines are expected to face a possible discharge. Colonel Christopher J. Bronzi, who oversaw Regner, was relieved of command of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit last year.

The panel was to review 6,000 pages of investigative reports and evidence before making its decision.

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.

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