Lawmakers Question General's Prestigious Pentagon Assignment After Fatal AAV Accident

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi Camp Pendleton
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi, the commanding general of 1st Marine Division, delivers remarks during a morning colors ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 7, 2019. (Ryan Kierkegaard/U.S. Marine Corps)

The Marine Corps' decision to put a general in charge of the office that investigates serious claims of wrongdoing after he was found to bear some responsibility for training failures leading to a fatal accident that killed nine troops is under scrutiny from lawmakers.

Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi's assignment as Marine Corps inspector general was sharply questioned by a California lawmaker last week. Castellvi was testifying before the House Armed Services' military personnel subcommittee Thursday when Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, told him she had met with the nine families who lost loved ones when their amphibious assault vehicle sank off San Diego's coast in July.

"I'm not going to make a big deal about this ... but I don't quite understand how someone gets elevated to the position of inspector general after being in charge of that particular disaster," Speier said in the final moments of Thursday's hearing.

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Castellvi was 1st Marine Division's commanding general when the accident occurred. The investigation into the incident, released last month, stated that Castellvi bore "some responsibility" over the AAV platoon not completing a readiness evaluation before the training exercise.

Speier did not give Castellvi a chance to respond before Thursday's hearing was adjourned. The general declined to respond to a request for comment from on her remarks.

"Major General Castellvi was best qualified and suited for the assignment," Capt. Andrew Wood, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said when asked about the service's response to Speier's comments.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, head of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, wrote in the investigation into the AAV accident that, had training requirements been met beforehand, the crew and embarked troops "may have been better prepared and responded more quickly as the mishap unfolded."

Despite that, Rudder ultimately decided that Castellvi should not be reprimanded. The general then became inspector general of the Marine Corps about two months after the accident. In that role, Castellvi serves as the service's top watchdog overseeing investigations and allegations of wrongdoing.

Speier is not alone in having concerns about Castellvi's assignment. Rep. John Garamendi, another California Democrat, told this month he also has questions about Castellvi.

Garamendi is calling on Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger to testify about the AAV sinking and other fatal accidents before the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee on May 3.

"We have enough information now to call to account the Marine Corps, certainly including those who are immediately responsible," Garamendi said. "And that's why I want the commandant there."

The Marine Corps announced this month a new review into the lead-up to the fatal accident, which could leave Castellvi and other senior leaders being held to account. Families whose sons were in the doomed AAV say that not enough senior leaders were held accountable for the troubling series of failures before the accident.

The Marine Corps determined the accident was preventable. Mechanical, training and leadership failures were all identified as reasons the AAV sank.

Michael McDowell, the father of 1st Lt. H. Conor McDowell, noted in an opinion piece for that Castellvi also oversaw his son's unit when it experienced a separate 2019 training accident. McDowell's son was killed when his light armored vehicle rolled over.

Two officers, a colonel and a lieutenant colonel, were relieved of command after the AAV accident, but more senior leaders have not been punished, McDowell noted.

"Castellvi is now Inspector General of the Marine Corps, the top officer heading investigations and inquiries into such fiascos as the AAV drowning deaths," McDowell wrote. "Why no penalty for the two-star?"

When Castellvi relinquished command of 1st Marine Division in September, he was heralded for his leadership by his superior, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the head of I Marine Expeditionary Force.

"[Castellvi] has been exceptional from readiness across the board," Heckl said during the ceremony, according to the Orange County Register. "He raised the bar and put this division where it needs to be.

"Are you leaving this command in a better place than you found it?" Heckl added. "That's an unequivocal 'Yes.'"

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

Related: 'Tragic Mishap Was Preventable': How the Marines Failed 9 Troops Whose 35-Year-Old AAV Sank in the Pacific

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