Navy Captain Censured Over Deadly Vehicle Sinking Approved for Another Command

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Marines aboard amphibious assault vehicles depart the well deck of amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5).
Marines aboard amphibious assault vehicles depart the well deck of amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erik Foster/U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy is giving a captain previously censured over the fatal sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle, or AAV, another chance at command.

Capt. John Kurtz, previously the commanding officer of the USS Somerset -- the ship that launched the doomed craft -- has been recommended to take command of an aircraft carrier sometime between October 2023 and September 2024, according to a recently released Navy memo.

The sinking, which occurred on July 30, 2020, claimed the lives of eight Marines and a Navy corpsman when their poorly maintained AAV began taking on water as it was making its way from shore back to the Somerset. 

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Military.com reached out to the Navy, which confirmed that Kurtz was selected for command despite having received the censure letter. The Navy's statement noted that the letter was in Kurtz's record and "selection boards review the official records of screened members."

On the day of the incident in 2020, the Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the doomed AAV could tell something was wrong. After signaling their distress and calling for help, they began getting ready to get out of their struggling craft. Another AAV that came up intending to aid them accidentally bumped into the sinking vehicle in the choppy seas, pushing it sideways into the waves. With a hatch open, a wave quickly filled the troop compartment, and the AAV sank with most of its crew still on board.

Several Marine Corps and Navy investigations followed, and firings ensued. The Marine Corps fired a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and then a two-star general for their roles in the incident that one Marine report called "tragic" and "preventable."

The Navy released its own report, the last of four the service produced on the incident, in October 2021. In the report, the service found leadership confusion, poor communications and gaps in training among its sailors, but ultimately concluded that none of those shortfalls was directly to blame for the incident.

This June, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro publicly released letters of censure he issued to five officers who were in positions of leadership during the incident, including Kurtz.

In his letter to Kurtz, Del Toro noted that the investigation "found that you failed in your duties to oversee AAV operations as the primary control officer." Del Toro went on to say that Kurtz's crew "was poorly informed of the risks and measures required for safe AAV operations" because the "associated briefings did not include a robust discussion of the actual dangers involved."

The Navy noted that selection "board deliberations are not a matter of public record."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.  

Related: Navy Secretary Censures 5 Officers over Fatal AAV Sinking

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