Corps investigating death of Marine colonel days before his retirement

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The Marine Corps is investigating the death of Lt. Col. Brett A. Hart, the executive officer of Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One, who was found dead at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma on April 19, a Corps spokesman told Task & Purpose.


"There is an open investigation into the incident," Capt. Christopher Harrison told Task & Purpose. "Further details will be available once the investigation is complete."

Hart, 48, was just days from retirement after 30 years of service when he took his own life, according to multiple sources. He left behind a wife, son, and daughter. A memorial service for Hart was held at the Yuma Chapel on April 26 — the same day his retirement ceremony had been scheduled.

"No rank is immune to suicide, not even an O-5 in the Marine Corps with over 30 years of service and one week away from retirement," Marine veteran Samuel Grayman wrote in a public post on Facebook. "RIP Lt. Col Brett A. Hart, it was an honor to serve under your command at VMMT-204."

Many of those who served with him during his career were shocked by his death, which came "out of the blue," according to Task & Purpose columnist Carl Forsling, a friend and colleague of Hart.

"Brett was one of the people that was so with it, he would be the guy I would call for advice," Forsling said. "I can't figure out why he would do this."

Hart enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1989 as a military policeman before earning a commission and beginning pilot training in May 1994, according to an official biography. He completed his initial training and was designated a naval aviator in Aug. 1997 before training on and deploying multiple times as a CH-46E "Sea Knight" helicopter pilot. In 2006, Hart began flying MV-22B Ospreys, and eventually became an Osprey flight instructor.

All told, Hart spent 1,200 hours in the MV-22B and 1,400 hours in the cockpit of the CH-46E. He flew under the callsign "Stork" — a reference to a character in the 1978 film Animal House with just one memorable line of dialogue, Forsling said.

Hart's awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with Strike Numeral "2", the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, according to his bio.

"Lt. Col. Hart was an exceptional leader who cared deeply for his family, the Corps, and his fellow Marines," Col. Peter L. McArdle, commanding officer of VMX-1, said in a statement to Task & Purpose. "We are deeply saddened by the loss of a great leader and friend, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to support his family throughout this difficult time."

"The one thing that scares me about the whole thing, it's not the paradigm of the 'troubled Marine,' or the sad person," Forsling told Task & Purpose, adding that Marines may not tell others they love them since it could be perceived as weakness.

"If you have those feelings about someone, you should let them know," he said.

If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Lt. Col. Brett Hart (Facebook)
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.

Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.

Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.

Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.

"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."

While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.

"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."

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The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

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A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.

Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.

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Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

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U.S. Special Operations Command may be on the verge of making the dream of flying infantry soldiers a reality, but the French may very well beat them to it.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron shared an unusual video showing a man on a flying platform — widely characterized as a "hoverboard" — maneuvering through the skies above the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris armed with what appears to be a dummy firearm.

The video was accompanied with a simple message of "Fier de notre armée, moderne et innovante," which translates to "proud of our army, modern and innovative," suggesting that the French Armed Forces may be eyeing the unusual vehicle for potential military applications.

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