More than eight months after an amphibious assault vehicle mishap that killed eight Marines and a sailor, the commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was relieved from his job, Marine Corps Forces Pacific announced on Tuesday.
Col. Christopher Bronzi, who had led the MEU since November 2019, was removed by MARFORPAC Commander Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command, following completion of the command investigation into the assault amphibious vehicle mishap which occurred off the coast of San Clemente Island, Calif., on July 30, 2020,” reads the statement.
Former 11th MEU commander Col. Fridrik Fridriksson has taken command of the 15th MEU, according to the statement.
In July, during a training exercise ahead of the MEU’s deployment to the Western Pacific and the Middle East, the AAV took on water before sinking in the waters nears San Clemente Island.
The 15th MEU, embarked on the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, is on the final legs of its deployment before it returns to California.
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 waters as the vehicle returned to amphibious 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.
In October, 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.”
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.
The following is the March 23, 2021, release from U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.
Commander of 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit relieved of command
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii – On March 23, Lieutenant General Steven R. Rudder, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific relieved Colonel Christopher J. Bronzi, commanding officer, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Lieutenant General Rudder relieved Colonel Bronzi due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command, following completion of the command investigation into the assault amphibious vehicle mishap which occurred off the coast of San Clemente Island, California on July 30, 2020. Concurrent with the relief of Colonel Bronzi, Lieutenant General Rudder Rudder placed Colonel Fridrik Fridriksson in command of 15th MEU. Colonel Fridriksson previously commanded 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and joined the currently deployed 15th MEU in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.