Late Monday evening, while conducting a nighttime live-fire training exercise, several U.S. Marines were killed and injured when a 60mm mortar round detonated in or around the tube. (The caliber has not yet been confirmed but the Marine Corps utilizes 60, 81 and 120mm mortar systems.) The incident took place in the live-fire training area south of the massive U.S. Army ammunition depot in Hawthorne, Nevada about 91 miles southeast of Reno.

Seven U.S. Marines were killed from the initial detonation and subsequent lag time delay while waiting for a “flight for life” to arrive on scene. An additional seven were injured and moved to regional hospitals for care. Many media outlets have reported that the Marines were from II MEF stationed out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Camp Lejeune is home to hundreds of units, so saying they were from II MEF is a very generalized statement and could mean anyone from LAR to 9th Marine Regiment; we just have to wait for more information to be released.

Back history on Hawthorne: Many people had never heard of the Hawthorne Depot before this. It is one of those obscure places, like Area 51 or China Island. An apocalyptic-style ammunition reserve for when all hell breaks loose, mothballed 16-inch naval guns, seized Nazi ammunition still packed in grease, and a massive toxic lake (Walker Lake) to the north. With a population of around 3,000, there is only a handfull of military personnel stationed at the depot. The majority of the town’s population works at Hawthorne Depot, and it is one of those situations where if the depot were not there then the town would not exist.

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So why were Marines training so far away from adequate access to medical support? The nearest medical trauma centers require patients to be flown via helicopters to Reno (91 miles to the northwest) or Fallon (64 miles). So why train there? I speak from experience, my Marine Special Operations Team conducted vital pre-deployment training in Hawthorne. The massive size and terrain of Hawthorne is ideal for units preparing for deployment to Afghanistan (period). They offer everything from demolition ranges, vehicle live-fire maneuver courses, high angle marksmanship areas and indirect fire impact areas. It is a one-stop shop for “Afghan style” training.