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Marine Corps fires commanding officer months after AAV accident off San Clemente Island

One Marine dead, eight others missing in amphibious assault vehicle accident off California coast
Posted at 4:19 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 19:24:51-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The Marine Corps has relieved the commanding officer of the expeditionary unit that lost nine troops in an amphibious assault vehicle training mishap off the coast of San Clemente Island last year.

Colonel Christopher J. Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was relieved of duty Tuesday by Marine Corps commander Lieutenant General Steven R. Rudder due to loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command.

Col. Bronzi's dismissal comes after the completion of the investigation into the AAV training accident that left nine troops dead on July 30, 2020.

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A total of 16 service members were involved in the AAV accident after the vehicle started taking on water while conducting shore-to-ship waterborne operations near San Clemente Island. Five service members were rescued. The accident is considered the deadliest AAV accident in Marine Corps history.

Former ABC10News Military Reporter Bob Lawrence says the decision to fire Bronzi was likely based on a "substantial amount of information."

"There’s always an examination, an investigation into what happened. What they found in this particular investigation is a 'substantial amount of information and data' to relieve the LT. Colonel of his command because they lost confidence in his ability to command, which isn’t unusual," said Lawrence.

The families of the victims have been waiting for the final report which hasn’t yet been released. One of those killed was Lance Corporal Sweetwood. A Marine who grew up in San Diego and enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. He was just hours from celebrating his 19th birthday when he was killed.

Lawrence added that this report may change the use of this specific type of AAV.

“They want to be transparent in what they found. This is a new process to introduce new equipment to the Marine Corps which means training, it may be different than what they’re using. This maybe a process to replace the AAV. But they’re not going anywhere anytime soon," said Lawrence.

Hal Kempfer, a retired Marine Lt. Colonel with a background in intelligence and amphibious reconnaissance, told ABC 10News last year that one of the most difficult operations in the military is amphibious operations.

"There is an inherent danger because every once in a while those things will take on water and if they do you've got a lot of marines trapped in a vehicle and it's going to be very difficult to get everyone out safely," Kempfer said. "We train like we fight an obviously like its very nature the armed forces is a very dangerous business that's what we do."

According to Military.com, Bronzi is the second senior officials to be fired following the AAV accident. In October, Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, was removed by I MEU commanding general Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl.

Lt. Gen. Rudder has placed Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, who previously commanded the 11th MEU and joined the currently deployed 15th MEU in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, in command of the 15th MEU.