News broke last week that Lt. Gen. Karsten S. Heckl, Commanding General of First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), relieved Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, Commanding Officer of BLT 1/4. This was due to “a loss in trust and confidence in his ability to command” as a result of the Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) accident earlier this year off the California coast, according to a recent Marine Corps press release.
The I MEF press release also states that the “Command Investigation has compiled a substantial amount of information and data which formed the basis for Heckl’s decision, it is still ongoing as the Marine Corps continues to investigate, assess all relevant information, and take appropriate actions.”
On July 30, 2020, while off the coast of San Clemente Island, California, a Marine Corps AAV with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4 encountered an issue that caused it to quickly sink. There was only enough time for about half of its crew to escape. The remaining crew members perished. Details of the exact cause of the accident have not been released at the time of this article’s publication.
But, as SOFREP has recently reported, the Marine AAV program is woefully outdated and lacks purchase in today’s age of warfare that is far more asymmetric than what the AAV was designed for. Was it a lapse in Lt. Col. Regner’s ability to command that caused the AAV accident? Should he be held accountable for the sinking of a vehicle that entered service in 1972 along a notoriously dangerous coastline?
This week, another senior Marine officer, Major General Stephen Neary, was relieved of command after marines under his command reported to Stars and Stripes that he had used a racial slur. Maj. Gen. Neary was also relieved of command due to a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to serve in command.” Still, the details around his firing and the initial incident are also lacking due to an ongoing investigation. Neary’s removal from command may have raised hackles surrounding the Marine Corps’s past, but since when does a 2-star general get axed because a lance corporal is butt hurt? What happens if the investigation is concluded and no malice or wrongdoing is found?
While the tragic July AAV accident and the events that led to the firing of Maj. Gen. Neary bear no outward similarities, both point to a problematic trend. Unfortunately, it seems it has become the modus operandi of the Marine Corps to make examples out of its servicemembers instead of owning issues and working to fix them.
This tack is destructive to morale, sews a poor public image of the Corps and doesn’t lead to real change. In the case of marines like the MARSOC 3, who have been punished prejudiciously for their involvement in the death of a civilian contractor despite the presence of clear exonerating evidence, it’s left to military family members to pick up the pieces.
Accountability is important, but how many more Marines — officers and enlisted — need to become scapegoats for the sake of PR?