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Marine inspector general suspended over amphibious vehicle drowning deaths

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi, then-commanding general of 1st Marine Division, visits with 1st Tank Battalion at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, June 30, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Robert G. Gavaldon)
May 03, 2021

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, the inspector general of the Marine Corps and former 1st Marine Division commander has been suspended from his duties, pending the results of a new investigation into a fatal incident in which nine service members drowned when an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sank last summer.

Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas announced Castellvi’s suspension in response to a question from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Monday.

The Marine Corps announced Castellvi “bears some responsibility” for the fatalities from the incident, which resulted in the deaths of eight Marines and a U.S. Navy sailor, because those troops had not been required to complete key prerequisite training before the accident.

“He’s been suspended from duties, that’s correct,” Thomas said of Castellvi.

The assessment of Castellvi’s responsibility in the fatal incident and the announcement of his suspension comes after the third investigation into the incident. The fatal incident came as Marine units were training ahead of the deployment of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (15th MEU).

Marine Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson said that as the then-commander of the 1st Marine Division, Castellvi would have had responsibility for the initial readiness of ground combat troops comprising the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Olson said he was “surprised at how cavalier some of the actions were” adding some of the actions surrounding the fatal incident “rose to recklessness.”

Investigators noted that the platoon aboard the AAV that sank had not completed its mandatory Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation, or MCCRE, prior to the accident.

“Although the failure of the AAV Platoon to conduct a MCCRE was not a causal factor in the mishap, a MCCRE may have exposed the AAV Platoon’s deficiencies in training and readiness identified in the investigation,” Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, head of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, in his endorsement of the latest investigation, Task & Purpose reported.

Castellvi’s suspension will continue as further investigations into the incident are underway

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps suspended Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi from serving as the Inspector General Marine Corps pending the outcome of the investigation led by Lt. Gen. Mundy into the formation of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit,” Marine spokesman Capt. Andrew Wood told Marine Corps Times on Monday.

Initial investigations into the fatal incident did not result in Castellvi’s suspension because investigators assessed “he was not the on-scene commander during the mishap.”

Michael H. C. McDowell, who lost his son, Marine 1st Lt. Hugh Conor McDowell, 24, in a 2019 light armored vehicle rollover incident, told Marine Corps Times that he welcomes the actions taken against Castellvi.

“Why are our generals and admirals so rarely held responsible, or made accountable, for noncombat preventable training deaths?” McDowell said. “Why, instead, do they all too often penalize lower ranks, in a shameful pass-the-blame game?”

McDowell also called for repercussions for other Marine Corps leaders.

“Where is the responsibility for his mates the three stars and four stars and even one stars?” McDowell asked. “It is a systemic problem of blaming down and never up.”

In March, Col. Christopher Bronzi, the commander in charge of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), was relieved of his command mid-deployment, after a loss of confidence in his leadership following the fatal AAV incident.