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Del Toro censures Navy, Marine officers for deadly training accident

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro this week issued formal letters of censure to three Marine Corps officers and two Navy officers for oversight failures that led to the death of nine service members two years ago.

On July 30, 2020, an amphibious assault vessel sank off the coast of California and killed eight Marines and one Sailor. Del Toro’s censure against five officers came after a Marine investigation found subpar training and equipment maintenance was the cause of the accident.

According to the Associated Press, 16 service members were onboard when it started to sink quickly in nearly 400 feet of water. Only seven Marines could be saved before it went down.

Censure letters went to Retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, USMC; Col. Christopher Bronzi, USMC; Capt. Stewart Bateshansky, USN; Capt. John Kurtz, USN; and Lt. Col. Keith Brenize, USMC.

“When leaders’ actions or inactions result in the loss of life or capital resources, the senior leadership of the Department of the Navy has a responsibility to determine the root cause and hold those accountable,” Del Toro said in a statement released by the Navy. “Following a thorough review of the command investigations into the AAV sinking, these officers received SLOCs due to their inadequate leadership and execution of their oversight duties.”

Del Toro didn’t mince words in his individual letters of censure to the five officers.

“As the Commanding Officer, you were responsible for ensuring 15th MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit] personnel were properly trained and its equipment operationally sound,” Del Toro wrote to Bronzi. “The investigations determined you knew or should have known required pre-deployment waterborne training was not completed and the AAVs assigned to the 15th MEU were in a degraded state of readiness. Furthermore, the investigations revealed critical safety measures were not implemented during the mishap, in violation of applicable directives. Accountability for these failures rests with you.”

He added, “You are censured for failing to identify and mitigate the training and material readiness failures that resulted in this mishap.”

Letters to other officers involved were given variations of these warnings. Brenize was told, “your decisions and acts set the conditions for this mishap to occur.” Osterman was told, “ultimate accountability rests with you.”

Bateshansky was told, “Commanders are responsible for the proper execution of duties and performance of their subordinates and you failed to do so.” And Kurtz was told, “As the primary control officer, you ultimately bear responsibility to ensure positive control and leadership oversight over waterborne AAV operations and you failed to do so.”

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