UPDATED: Marine Corps Suspends General Over Deadly AAV Accident, Navy Launches Own Investigation

May 3, 2021 5:44 PM - Updated: May 3, 2021 8:01 PM
Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi

This post has been updated to include a statement from the U.S. Navy.

The Marine Corps recently suspended a two-star general as it continues an investigation into last year’s fatal Amphibious Assault Vehicle accident that left eight Marines and one sailor dead.

During a hearing in front of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee today, Marine Corps assistant commandant Gen. Gary Thomas told lawmakers that Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, who recently became the service’s inspector general, had been suspended. Castellvi led the 1st Marine Division when an AAV sank in the waters near San Clemente Island during training last July.

Meanwhile, the Navy announced today that it recently launched its own investigation into the AAV accident.

A Marine Corps spokesman told USNI News after the hearing that Castellvi was suspended last week at the order of Commandant Gen. David Berger.

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps suspended Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi from serving as the Inspector General of the Marine Corps pending the outcome of the investigation led by Lt. Gen. Mundy into the formation of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The suspension occurred late last week,” Capt. Andrew Wood said in a statement. “The announcement was made by the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps during a testimony hearing on 3 May. The Acting IGMC is Mr. Carlyle E. Shelton, Jr. Maj. Gen. Castellvi has not been reassigned at this time.”

Castellvi’s suspension came to light today when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) asked for the name of the officer who oversaw the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s readiness at the time of the AAV’s sinking.

“The commander of 1st Marine Division at the time would have been responsible for the initial readiness of the division units forming the ground combat element, as would the wing commander be responsible for the aviation units, and the Marine logistics group commander be responsible for the logistics units that composited together to form the subordinate elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit,” Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, the Marine Corps’ staff director, told lawmakers.

Thomas confirmed that Castellvi led the division when the accident took place and that he had been suspended. Castellvi’s suspension comes as the Marine Corps continues a recently-opened probe into the 15th MEU to better understand its development and training leading up to the July 30 accident.

Remains of Marines and sailor killed in AAV incident arrive in Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Aug 12, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marine Corps in late March unveiled the results of its investigation into the AAV’s sinking, which happened during a joint training drill between the 15th MEU and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group. That investigation concluded that a series of training and readiness issues, including AAVs in subpar condition, led to the accident that killed nine service members.

In addition to the ongoing Marine Corps investigation into the 15th MEU, the Navy is probing its own role in the accident, according to Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener. Kitchener, who leads Naval Surface Forces, told lawmakers today that the Navy would wrap up its investigation in the next 30 days.

“The Navy cooperated fully with the Marine Corps in the investigation and provided access to records, logs and many witnesses. And when we reviewed the investigation, we agreed with the fundamental conclusions that there were no causal factors attributable to the Navy. However, what we did find left a few questions unanswered,” Kitchener told the panel.

To address this, the Navy assembled a group that includes civilians and personnel from both services to perform its investigation, Kitchener said.

“So we decided to open our own investigation to understand what actions and decisions that Navy personnel made that day could have contributed to the tragedy. And then what policies and practices may be required and must be improved,” Kitchener said. “So we stood up a team of 16 people that’s made up of Navy, Marine Corps and civilian personnel and we specifically asked them to look at the actions of the personnel that day in the planning, in the approval, in the execution of the operation.”

“Additionally, we asked them to look at the communications between Navy and Marine Corps personnel prior to, during and in the aftermath of the incident,” he continued. “We also asked them to … assess the impact of a number of conditions that day that may have been contributing factors. For example, the sea state in the morning and the sea state in the afternoon.”

HASC readiness subcommittee chairman Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) during the hearing emphasized that he thought the Navy also bore responsibility for the accident.

Marines with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, operate AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles into the well deck of the amphibious landing dock USS Somerset (LPD-25) on July 27, 2020. US Marines Photo

“Adm. Kitchener, you’ve been mostly on the side here. We will review your report when it is available and I suspect that we will find that there’s also very serious derelictions in the U.S. Navy part of this, participation in this accident and the accountability going forward,” Garamendi said.

Following an earlier version of this story, the Navy issued a statement that said Vice Adm. Scott Conn, the commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet, is leading the service’s probe into the AAV’s sinking. A Navy spokeswoman confirmed to USNI News that the service launched its own investigation in mid-April, which was several weeks after the Marine Corps released the details of its probe into the AAV sinking.

“U.S. Third Fleet Vice Adm. Scott Conn was directed to convene a command investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the assault amphibious vehicle (AAV) tragedy that occurred during U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps integrated operations July 30, 2020. His investigative team will include Marine Corps personnel,” Lt. Gabrielle Dimaapi said in the statement.

“The command investigation will address any factors involving U.S. Navy personnel that potentially contributed to the tragedy, as well as an assessment of the possible impact to waterborne AAV operations of factors such as sea state and number and type of safety boats used during the waterborne operations,” Dimaapi continued. “The investigation is expected to take approximately thirty days, with additional time allotted for subsequent review and endorsement by senior Navy and Marine Corps leadership. We are committed to conducting a thorough investigation, to identify causes, and to learn from them, and take action to reduce the chance of future tragedies.”

The hearing also included testimonies from the fathers of two of the service members who died during the AAV’s sinking. Peter Ostrovsky, whose son was Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, told lawmakers he’d like to learn more specifics about the “administrative action” taken against the individuals that the Marine Corps investigation concluded were responsible for the accident.

“When you use that term administrative action without any detail, it makes you wonder what’s the real action. And I understand that you can’t name names – the Privacy Act. I was a federal employee myself for quite some time, so I’m familiar with that,” Ostrovsky said. “But at least I think it would be helpful to the families to know the type of administrative action that was taken because it could be anywhere from a day off without pay to months off without pay or reduction of rank, or whatever. so i think it’d be helpful in the future to have some more detail as to the type of action, without naming names.”

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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