Marine Battalion Leaders Fired 3 Months After Rifles Went Missing at Lejeune

Lt. Col. Clinton Kappel (left) and Sgt. Maj. Elson Aviles (right). (Images: U.S. Marine Corps)
Lt. Col. Clinton Kappel (left) and Sgt. Maj. Elson Aviles (right). (Images: U.S. Marine Corps)

The top leaders of a Marine infantry battalion that lost a pair of rifles during a North Carolina training exercise have been removed from their jobs, has confirmed.

Lt. Col. Clinton Kappel and Sgt. Maj. Elson Aviles were relieved of their duties last week by Maj. Gen. David Furness, head of 2nd Marine Division. Kappel was the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Aviles the unit's top enlisted leader.

Furness made the decision to relieve the two over a loss of trust and confidence in their ability to lead, said 1st Lt. Dan Linfante, a 2nd Marine Division spokesman. The reliefs were first reported by Task & Purpose.

Kappel and Aviles did not immediately respond to a request for comment through their command. Linfante did not provide information about their current assignments.

Related: The Marines Still Haven't Found 2 Rifles That Went Missing at Lejeune

Officials did not confirm whether an investigation into the December training incident, in which a pair of rifles and a flak jacket went missing, played into Furness' decision to remove the leaders from their posts. Linfante said only that the infantry division "must continue to put our subordinate units in the best position to fight and win."

"As such, decisions like this are taken seriously and with the intent of ensuring a given unit's continued success in future operations," he said. "[Third] Battalion, 6th Marines, remains a proficient unit, capable of performing at a high level and carrying out the full spectrum of operations that are expected of an infantry battalion in the Marine Corps."

Jeff Houston, a spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is leading the investigation into the lost weapons, said the rifles have never been found. The investigation into their whereabouts, which began Dec. 20, is ongoing, he said.

"No charges have been brought at this time," Houston said.

Lt. Col. Ryan Gordinier has assumed command of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. No one has replaced Aviles yet. Until a replacement is named, the battalion's leadership chain has assumed that position's duties, Linfante said.

Kappel, a prior enlisted Marine, had led the battalion since September. That's the same month Aviles was promoted to the rank of sergeant major, according to his official bio.

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

Read more: East Coast-Based Marines Will Take Operational Pause Amid Coronavirus Crisis

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