Deployed MEU Commander Fired Nearly 8 Months After Deadly AAV Accident

U.S. Marine Corps Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
U.S. Marine Corps Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, gives his remarks during a traditional cake-cutting ceremony for the 245th Marine Corps birthday aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), Nov. 3, 2020. (Sarah Stegall/U.S. Marine Corps)

The commanding officer of the California-based Marine expeditionary unit that lost nine troops in an assault amphibious vehicle accident last summer has been removed from his job.

Col. Christopher Bronzi, with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was relieved of command Tuesday by Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the head of Marine Corps Forces Pacific. Rudder lost trust and confidence in Bronzi's ability to command following completion of an investigation into the July 30 AAV training accident, officials announced Tuesday morning.

The accident occurred off the coast of California's San Clemente Island. The AAV was heading back to the amphibious transport dock Somerset when it rapidly took on water, trapping eight of the nine troops killed in the mishap inside.

Killed in the accident were Cpls. Wesley Rodd and Cesar A. Villanueva; Lance Cpls. Marco Barranco, Guillermo Perez and Chase D. Sweetwood; Pfcs. Bryan Baltierra, Evan Bath and Jack Ryan Ostrovsky; and Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem.

The 15th MEU is currently operating in the Middle East with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group. Bronzi, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, was replaced by Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, who previously commanded the 11th MEU.

Bronzi is the second senior leader to be fired because of the AAV accident.

Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, was removed from his job in October over a loss of confidence. That decision was made by Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force.

The Marine Corps' investigation into the AAV accident has not been publicly released. Families of the eight Marines and sailor killed in the mishap are being notified of the investigation's findings, the Orange County Register reported Sunday.

"It has been a living nightmare," Christiana Sweetwood, Chase Sweetwood's mother, told the OC Register. "... I don't just want answers from the report. I want justice."

The Marine Corps halted all AAV water operations the day after the accident. Commandant Gen. David Berger ordered the entire fleet of more than 800 AAVs to be inspected until the cause of the accident was determined.

Bronzi assumed command of the 15th MEU in November 2019. He previously commanded 1st Battalion, 4th Marines -- the same unit to which the Marines and sailor who died in the accident were assigned -- from 2012 to 2014.

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

Related: Marine Battalion Landing Team Commander Fired Following Deadly AAV Mishap

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