Marine F/A-18 Hornet squadron’s top leaders fired for lapses leading up to deadly 2018 crash


VIDEO: F/A-18D - KC-130 Crash: In Remembrance

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

The results of a command investigation into the incident found that the F/A-18D pilot "lost situational awareness, unintentionally crossed over the top of the KC-130J from left to right, and collided with the rear of the tanker," according to a Marine Corps news release.

The investigation found the F/A-18D pilot was not experienced in conducting mid-air refueling missions at night and that the attempted move to the left side of the KC-130J was "a non-standard maneuver."

Both the F/A-18D Hornet and KC-130J Super Hercules had been properly maintained and there was no evidence that either aircraft malfunctioned prior to the crash, the news release says.

An F/A-18D Hornet with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron and a KC-130J Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, conduct simulated aerial refueling at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, May 5, 2017(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Aaron Henson)

However, investigators found several human factors within Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, to which the Hornet pilot was assigned, did play a role in the deadly collision, including inadequate oversight of training and operation by squadron leaders, an unprofessional command climate within the squadron, and the Hornet pilot's lack of proficiency at flying mid-air refueling missions at night.

As a result, the squadron's commanding officer, executive officer, operations officer, and aviation safety officer were all fired after the commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing lost confidence in their ability to lead, the news release says.

Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas has appointed a consolidated disposition authority to look into the possibility of further disciplinary or administrative actions for members of the squadron, said Corps spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield.

Lt. Col. James Compton, who was relived as the squadron's commanding officer, told Task & Purpose that he accepts responsibility for the crash, but other factors were involved in what happened. He also called the other squadron leaders who were relieved, "Some of the finest officers that I've ever served with."

"The main thing here is we had a tragic loss of life," Compton said on Monday. "The role that I played in not being able to mitigate that or stop that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I don't know that it's any comfort to the families, but I wish deep in my heart of hearts that there was something I could have done to have seen this coming and to have ultimately prevented it."

Compton submitted 37 reports during his time in command that made the squadron's readiness challenges clear, said Compton, who has not read the investigation. Shortly before the crash, the Defense Department had cancelled a joint exercise between U.S. military aviation units and the South Korean Air Force amid a major push for peace with North Korea.

That led Compton to believe the squadron's operations tempo would slacken, but the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing did not reduce operational requirements, said Compton, who questions why the mission had to take place at 1:45 a.m., which was not his idea.

"In my heart of hearts, I wish I could have been stronger about standing up to the tasking," Compton said. "Ultimately, I don't hide from my responsibility as a commander. When you have something like this that occurs, ultimately the commander is responsible, and I understand that."

"I have taken responsibility," he continued. "Other commanders – and by that, I mean more senior ones – did not seem to feel that same weight of responsibility. I'm not sure why."

UPDATE: This story was updated on Sept. 23 to include that Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Gen. Gary Thomas has appointed a consolidated disposition authority to look whether any members of the squadron should face disciplinary or administrative actions.

Seven of the twelve Soldiers participating in the Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Level 2 course at Fort Indiantown Gap practice folding the flag April 25. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Zane Craig)

Retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen has died 10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.

Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, according to funeral information posted online.

Read More Show Less

For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.

"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.

In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.

"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."

Read More Show Less
Defense Secretary Mark Esper (Associated Press photo)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he and the Pentagon will comply with House Democrats' impeachment inquiry subpoena, but it'll be on their own schedule.

"We will do everything we can to cooperate with the Congress," Esper said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Just in the last week or two, my general counsel sent out a note — as we typically do in these situations — to ensure documents are retained."

Read More Show Less

Most of the U.S. troops in Syria are being moved out of the country as Turkish forces and their Arab allies push further into Kurdish territory than originally expected, Task & Purpose has learned.

Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, leaving a residual force of between 100 and 150 service members at the Al Tanf garrison, a U.S. official said.

"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday's edition of CBS News' "Face the Nation."'

Read More Show Less

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Women affiliated with Islamic State and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region's Kurdish-led administration said.

Turkey's cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara's Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.

Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.

Read More Show Less