The commander of a Marine battalion landing team that lost nine men when an AAV sunk off San Clemente Island, Calif., during a training exercise in July, I Marine Expeditionary Force announced late Tuesday.
Lt. Col. Michael Regner was relieved of command of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, “due to a loss in trust and confidence in his ability to command as a result of the amphibious assault vehicle mishap” on July 30, I MEF officials said in a news release.
One Navy hospital corpsman and eight Marine infantrymen with B Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, died when the AAV they were riding in sank in about 385-foot deep water as the vehicle returned to transport dock USS Somerset (LPD-25). Eight Marines, including the vehicle crew of three, were pulled from or able to get out of the vehicle before the 26-ton amtrac sank; one of those Marines later died.
Regner is an infantry officer with several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who has led the Camp Pendleton, Calif-based battalion since January 2019, according to his official biography.
Lt. Gen. Karsten S. Heckl, who took command of I MEF on July 31, made the decision to relieve Regner even as the investigations into the mishap continue.
“Although the Command Investigation has compiled a substantial amount of information and data which formed the basis for General Heckl’s decision, it is still ongoing as the Marine Corps continues to investigate, assess all relevant information, and take appropriate actions,” I MEF officials said in the release.
The mishap happened as BLT 1/4 – it’s a reinforced infantry battalion that’s the ground combat element for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit – was wrapping up amphibious training on San Clemente Island with the Makin Island Expeditionary Strike Group ahead of a planned overseas deployment.
Killed in the mishap were: Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif., Cpls. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, and Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif.; Lance Cpls. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, Calif., Guillermo S. Perez, 19, of New Braunfels, Texas, and Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Ore.; and Pfcs. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, Calif., Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisc., and Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore. Navy and contracted salvage teams using submersibles recovered their bodies and the AAV a week later.
The following is the complete statement from I MEF.
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Oct. 13, 2020) – Lt. Gen. Karsten S. Heckl, Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force, relieved Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, Commanding Officer, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit today. Heckl relieved Regner due to a loss in trust and confidence in his ability to command as a result of the assault amphibious vehicle mishap that took place off the coast of Southern California July 30, 2020.
Although the Command Investigation has compiled a substantial amount of information and data which formed the basis for Heckl’s decision, it is still ongoing as the Marine Corps continues to investigate, assess all relevant information, and take appropriate actions.
The battalion landing team, a reinforced infantry battalion, is the ground combat element of the MEU, and consists of three rifle companies, along with artillery, light-armored reconnaissance, assault amphibian, and combat engineer attachments. These elements are readily available to the MEU commander to project ground combat power from ship-to-shore.
The Marines and Sailors of the 15th MEU continue to train in preparation for crisis and contingency response.