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Fired Marine recon battalion commander is fourth Marine leader removed in recent weeks

A U.S. Marine 1st Marine Division (MARDIV) runs through CS gas during the hike portion of the 1st MARDIV Super Squad Competition at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 30, 2018. The competition tests the Marines in a broad spectrum of infantry related skills to include offensive and defensive operations, patrolling techniques, and combat marksmanship, to determine the best squad within 1st MARDIV. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Audrey M.C. Rampton)

The 1st Marine Division’s commander fired the officer in charge of Camp Pendleton’s 1st Reconnaissance Battalion on Tuesday, marking at least the fourth removal of a Marine commander in recent weeks.

Lt. Col. Francisco Zavala was removed from his command after Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi “lost trust and confidence in the commanding officer’s ability to lead,” according to a statement issued Wednesday from the division, which is based in California.

A spokesman for 1st Marine Division declined to provide any additional details about Zavala’s removal but indicated he was under some kind of investigation.

Zavala, who is from Texas, was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 2000 as an infantry officer and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to his official biography. His former commands include leading a platoon with the 1st Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company, a company in 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, and recently the Corps’ Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Peru, according to the Marines.

He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for combat valor for actions in Afghanistan in 2010, which included “sprinting more than three kilometers in full combat equipment” and, for more than 24 hours, securing a location where a Marine AH-1W Cobra helicopter had crashed. His actions prevented enemy forces from capturing the remains of two pilots killed in the crash, according to his award citation.

Castellvi appointed Maj. Jeffrey Erb as 1st Reconnaissance Battalion’s commander after removing Zavala, the Marine statement said.

Two other Marine commanders were removed from their duties in recent weeks following arrests on suspicion of drunken driving.

Col. Douglas Lemott Jr. was fired from his position as commander of the Marines’ Cyberspace Operations Group on May 3, just days after his arrest in Fauquier County, Va. On April 25, Col. John Atkinson was removed from his position as commander of Headquarters and Service Battalion at Marine Corps Base Quantico after his arrest earlier in April in Prince William County, Va.

Marine officials cited leaders’ “loss of trust and confidence” in both of those officers in announcing their relief from command.

Another recently fired Marine officer, Lt. Col. James Compton, was removed April 22 from his role commanding the All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. His dismissal was also attributed to a “loss of trust and confidence” as an investigation continues into a fatal collision in December between one of Compton’s squadron’s F/A-18D Hornet fighters and a KC-130J air tanker.


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