Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi has been fired as the Inspector General of the Marine Corps for failing to fully prepare his Marines and sailors ahead of a training exercise last July in which nine service members drowned when their amphibious assault vehicle sank, the Marine Corps has announced.
Castellvi, who led the 1st Marine Division at the time of the July 30 accident, is the highest-ranking officer to be disciplined for his role in the deadliest amphibious assault vehicle accident in Marine Corps history.
A command investigation found that Castellvi had failed to ensure all of his troops completed training on how to escape from a submerged vehicle and he did not hold a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation (MCCRE) that could have exposed the many problems plaguing the amphibious assault vehicle platoon involved with the accident before the training exercise took place. But Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, head of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, decided not to discipline Castellvi.
Castellvi became the Marine Corps’ inspector general after the sinking but was suspended in May pending the outcome of a separate investigation into how Marines and sailors were trained and equipped prior to joining the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Now Castellvi will not return as inspector general and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has taken administrative action against him, said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Andrew Wood.
“The commandant personally and formally counseled him for his failure to properly train the Marines and sailors for whom he was entrusted and for the inadequate evaluation of the AAV Platoon before it was attached to the 15th MEU,” Wood said.
“The commandant’s decision is part of Maj. Gen. Castellvi’s permanent record and must be considered if he is evaluated for promotion, retention, or roles of responsibility,” Wood continued. “This action typically prevents an officer from being promoted or serving in a role where he/she would be charged with the responsibility of caring for Marines and sailors.”
Castellvi is not commenting on Berger’s actions, Wood said.
Berger told reporters last week that at least one general officer could be disciplined following the completion of the investigation into how the various Marine Corps units were combined to form the 15th MEU.
One reporter asked Berger why no disciplinary action against Castellvi had been taken as a result of the command investigation, in which Rudder determined that Castellvi “bears some responsibility for the failure” to hold a MCCRE and to make sure that all of his Marines and sailors were fully trained on how to escape from a submerged vehicle before they joined the 15th MEU.
“I needed to know more about the forming of the MEU – how it was put together from the division, the wing, and the MLG [Marine Logistics Group] – and that led to where we are today,” Berger said during a May 26 media roundtable. “We will never hesitate – legal or on the other side – to relieve a commander if we’ve lost trust and confidence, but I needed to understand in greater depth about how that MEU was composited, which I now know.”
Berger did not tell reporters who he intended to discipline, but he was visibly enraged by the fact that eight of the nine service members who died had not gone through the submerged vehicle egress trainer, a mock vehicle that is designed to train Marines and sailors how to get out of an amphibious assault vehicle while under water.
“There are no excuses for not getting the whole unit through the required training — none,” Berger said on Wednesday. “It’s not a function of money. It was not a function of — we didn’t have access to the pool, or we didn’t have access to the trainer. There are no excuses for that at all, none.”
However, the initial command investigation found several underlying problems with Underwater Egress Training. At the time, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s policy on the issue was confusing because it read that if any Marine or sailor needed remedial training, the Shallow Water Egress Trainer — an individual seat that is placed underwater upside down — will “meet the training requirement.”
The commanding officer for Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment told investigators that he thought the I MEF policy allowed him to have his Marines and sailors complete just the Shallow Water Egress Trainer before joining the 15th MEU. He also said he thought that restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and maintenance issues with training equipment made it difficult to complete all of Underwater Egress Training.
“Prior to the mishap, the Bravo Company Commander knew that his personnel had never participated in AAV waterborne operations and should have known that his personnel were not fully UET qualified,” the officer in charge of the command investigation wrote. “When asked about this he specifically stated that ‘[t]he training my Marines and Sailors received was consistent with established predeployment training and my previous experience.’”
“I find this to be unacceptable,” the investigator wrote.
Castellvi may not be the only senior leader who is ultimately disciplined for the deadly training accident. When asked at the May 26 media roundtable if more than one general officer could be punished, Berger was vague. “We’ll see,” Berger said. “I don’t want to get in front of the acting [Navy] secretary.”