Commandant Suspends Marine 2-Star Who Went Unpunished After AAV Disaster

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi salutes.
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi salutes during the quarterly morning colors ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 31, 2019. (U.S Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Roxanna Ortiz)

The inspector general of the Marine Corps, who was found to bear some responsibility leading up to a deadly amphibious assault vehicle accident last summer, has been suspended from his job.

Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi has been temporarily removed from his duties pending an ongoing investigation, Assistant Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas told lawmakers Monday during a hearing on the July 2020 accident. Castellvi served as commanding general of the California-based 1st Marine Division when an AAV sank off San Diego's coast last July, killing nine troops.

The decision to suspend Castellvi was made by Commandant Gen. David Berger late last week, said Capt. Andrew Wood, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon. The suspension is pending the outcome of a new investigation into how the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit assembled for its fall deployment last year.

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The AAV that sank was one of several vehicles assigned to the 15th MEU that was in a state of disrepair. Members of Castellvi's former division were also found to lack training for waterborne missions -- even though they were assigned to a MEU, which would deploy on a Navy warship.

"Castellvi has not been reassigned at this time," Wood said. Carlyle Shelton Jr., the civilian deputy Marine Corps inspector general, is now serving as acting IG of the Marine Corps, he added.

Thomas said 11 Marines have been or will be held accountable for their roles in the accident.

"Some of these accountability actions are ongoing, including boards to consider separation from the service," he said. "We make decisions regarding accountability based on an individual's responsibilities, and the performance of duties. An individual's rank neither obligates nor excuses them from accountability.

"As we learn more about this tragedy, we will take additional measures as appropriate," Thomas added.

Two commanding officers were relieved of their duties following the accident. Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, was relieved in October. Col. Christopher Bronzi, the 15th MEU's commanding officer, was relieved in March while the unit was operating in the Middle East.

The investigation also recommended "appropriate administrative or disciplinary action" against the AAV platoon commander, AAV platoon sergeant, and vehicle commander. Marine officials have not provided updates as to whether any actions have been taken in those cases.

Families of the eight Marines and one sailor killed in the accident have been calling for accountability for the failures that investigators found led up to the AAV sinking. Mechanical problems, training shortfalls and leadership all contributed.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, head of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, wrote in his endorsement letter accompanying the investigation that Castellvi bore some responsibility for the AAV platoon not completing a readiness evaluation before the training exercise. Rudder ultimately declined to take any action against the two-star general.

Castellvi's follow-on assignment to become the inspector general of the Marine Corps drew questions from families affected by the tragedy and lawmakers. The assignment had him overseeing Marine Corps investigations and allegations of wrongdoing against senior leaders.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, told Castellvi during a separate hearing last month that she didn't "understand how someone gets elevated to the position of inspector general after being in charge of [the AAV] disaster."

Speier again asked about Castellvi's status during Monday's hearing, which centered around the Marine Corps' safety shortfalls leading up to the accident. That included a lack of egress for most inside the doomed vehicle the day of the accident, which Rudder noted in his endorsement letter of the investigation might have better prepared the Marines and sailor inside the AAV to respond more quickly as the mishap unfolded.

Thomas reiterated Monday that the accident was preventable.

"The sinking of this AAV and the deaths of eight Marines and one sailor were preventable -- preventable in so many ways," he said. "But we failed. We failed these brave young men."

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

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