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Marine general fired after 9 dead in training accident

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Robert G. Gavaldon)
June 10, 2021

A Marine Corps general has been permanently relieved of duty after the service determined he failed to properly train Marines and sailors, leading to the deaths of nine troops when an amphibious vehicle sank off the coast of Southern California last year.

On Wednesday, the Marine Corps confirmed Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi, the former Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division had been relieved of his command. “He will not return to that position,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Andrew Wood said in a statement Wednesday, reported by Business Insider.

Wood added Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger “took adverse administration action against him.”

According to officials, Castellvi was first suspended in April following the deadly but preventable training accident 70 miles of the San Diego’s coast.

“He was found responsible for a lack of training. No action was taken against him, and up until last week he was, in fact, the inspector general for the Marine Corps,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) during a hearing on the incident in May.

“That is correct,” confirmed Gen. Gary L. Thomas, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. “He has been suspended from his duties.”

Investigators found the accident, which occurred on July 30 last year, was the result of inadequate training, questionable maintenance of the decades-old amphibious assault vehicles (AAV) and commanders’ bad judgement.  

“During the return transit, water began to enter the mishap AAV through multiple points of leakage, the transmission failed, bilge pumps were unable to expel water rapidly enough due to the transmission failure, and the AAV began to sink.  The vehicle commander gave the distress signal, known as a ‘November flag,’ but no safety boats were in the water, and it took approximately 20 minutes for another AAV to arrive to assist,” the Corps explained. 

“The mishap AAV was slowly sinking for approximately 45 minutes before the other AAV with embarked personnel pulled alongside.  The mishap AAV crew prepared to evacuate embarked personnel by opening a hatch on the top of the vehicle.  The AAVs collided, causing the mishap AAV to turn broadside to a swell.  A large wave swept over the mishap AAV, in which water entered the troop compartment through the open hatch, and caused the mishap AAV to rapidly sink with eleven personnel on board.”

Troops had not been suitably trained to escape the amphibious assault vehicle quickly, nor had the unit executed the required evaluation that would address issues prior to the exercise.

Prior to being relieved of his duties, Castellvi was the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, of Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. He was also appointed to Marine Corps inspector general after the disaster.

On Wednesday Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, affirmed the Marine Corps’ decision to permanently relieve Castellvi.

“I am pleased to learn that the Marine Corps has held Maj. Gen. Castellvi accountable for his completely inadequate performance as Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division.  It is my view that his failures in ensuring the Marines under his charge were adequately trained prior to joining the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were a direct and contributing factor to the tragic loss of eight Marines and one Navy Corpsman last July,” Garamendi said in a statement.

“While this accountability action is an important step, I will continue to work to ensure that the Marine Corps adopts a culture of safety and continues to remedy all of the failures that lead to that tragic day,” he added. “This is the only way to ensure that dangerous training required to prepare our service members for combat is done as safely as possible.”