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Marine fmr. commander may be kicked out over AAV sinking that killed 9

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 21, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jailine L. AliceaSantiago)
January 05, 2022

The Marine officer who formerly commanded the battalion landing team including the nine service members who died in a July 2020 amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sinking could be kicked out of the Marine Corps.

Lt. Col. Michael Regner, a 19-year Marine, could be discharged and lose his retirement if a board of inquiry determines his performance related to the incident was “substandard” and warrants his discharge, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Tuesday.

The three-officer board of inquiry at Camp Pendleton began Tuesday as it sets out to determine whether enough evidence exists to support the government’s assertion that Renger performed in a “substandard” manner by not preventing the deadly accident.

Renger’s attorney maintains he has accepted responsibility for the accident but shouldn’t be kicked out – especially six months ahead of his retirement-eligible 20-year service milestone.

“He’s owned it,” said Maj. Cory Carver, a defense attorney for Renger. “There’s no legal basis for separation in this case.”

Government attorney Lt. Col. Michael McDonald argued that “(Regner’s) substandard performance set the conditions for the sinking of the [AAV] last summer.”

Renger commanded 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment from June 2019 to October 2020 when he was relieved of command by commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl “due to a loss in trust and confidence in his ability to command as a result of the assault amphibious vehicle mishap.”

On July 30, 2020, Battalion Landing Team 1/4 was conducting a training raid around San Clemente Island, Calif., when an AAV with 15 Marines and 1 Sailor aboard began taking on water while returning to amphibious transport dock Somerset. The AAV rapidly sank, and while nearly half of the members inside escaped, eight Marines and one Sailor drowned.

Among those killed was Cpls. Wesley A. Rodd, 23 Cesar A. Villanueva, 21; Lance Cpls. Marco A. Barranco, 21, Guillermo S. Perez, 19, and Chase D. Sweetwood, 19; Pfcs. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, Evan A. Bath, 19, and Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21; and Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22.

Subsequent investigations concluded that failures including insufficient training, poor communications, and major mechanical issues led to the fatal accident.

Col. Christopher Bronzi, the U.S. Marine Corps commander in charge of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), was relieved of his command in March 2021 due to a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command” following the investigative findings. At the time of the accident, Bronzi was deployed to the Middle East with the 15th MEU.

Last month, the Marine Corps permanently banned AAVs from operating in the water, though asserted that the AAVs are still “a safe an effective vehicle for amphibious operations.” The vehicles, which have been used since the 1970s, will continue to be used on land.