Marine Recon Commanding Officer Relieved, 4th Leader Ousted in 2 Weeks

Lt. Col. Francisco X. Zavala. (U.S. Marine Corps)
Lt. Col. Francisco X. Zavala. (U.S. Marine Corps)

A Marine lieutenant colonel has been removed from his job after leaders lost confidence in his ability to command. He's at least the fourth Marine Corps officer to be relieved of command in about two weeks.

Lt. Col. Francisco Zavala, the California-based 1st Reconnaissance Battalion's former commanding officer, was relieved Tuesday, according to a Marine Corps news release. The relief was carried out by Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, commanding general of 1st Marine Division.

"[Castellvi] lost trust and confidence in the commanding officer's ability to lead," the release states.

Maj. Jeffrey Erb has been appointed to take over as the recon battalion's leader. Questions about where Zavala has been reassigned and whether he's the subject of an ongoing investigation were not immediately answered.

The relief is at least the fourth since April 22, when Lt. Col. James Compton with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 was fired. That squadron was involved in a deadly refueling training mission in December.

Two more commanding officers were recently fired over drunk driving charges. Col. John Atkinson, the former commanding officer of the Quantico, Virginia-based Headquarters and Service Battalion, was fired in April after he was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence. Col. Douglas Lemott Jr., former commanding officer of Marine Corps Cyberspace Operations Group, was relieved last week following his arrest.

Zavala, a Bronze Star with Combat "V" recipient, recently led Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Peru, which spent six weeks training with local naval infantry troops in South America late last year. Before that, he was a staff officer with 2nd Marine Division, where he was promoted to his current rank by the division's commanding general, Maj. Gen. John Love.

He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as battalion operations officer with 4th Reconnaissance Battalion.

Zavala earned his Bronze Star with V while deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 as commanding officer of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. He is credited with repeatedly braving enemy fire to lead his Marines, including running three kilometers in full combat gear to retrieve the bodies of pilots killed in an AH-1W Super Cobra crash so they wouldn't fall into the enemy's hands, according to his citation.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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