The Marines found that the service members involved had not received appropriate instruction on how to get out of the vehicle quickly, and did not go through a required evaluation that could have revealed problems in the unit.
Eleven other Marine officials involved in the disaster were previously removed from their jobs or otherwise disciplined, but Castellvi had avoided any action against him, angering families of the Marines and sailor killed in the sinking. He was the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, of Camp Pendleton, Calif., at the time of the disaster and rotated out to become Marine Corps inspector general several weeks later.
The decision to suspend Castellvi was first raised Monday by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) during a hearing about the incident.
“He was found responsible for a lack of training. No action was taken against him, and up until last week he was, in fact, the inspector general for the Marine Corps,” Speier said.
“That is correct,” responded Gen. Gary L. Thomas, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. “He has been suspended from his duties.”
Marine officials said in a statement Monday that their “expectation going into the hearing was that Maj. Gen. Castellvi’s suspension as inspector general of the Marine Corps would be announced.” The service did not say why it had not already announced the decision on its own.
Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, suspended Castellvi from serving as the service’s inspector general pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation into the formation of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a force of about 2,200 Marines and sailors that included the AAV that sank.
The disclosure came after the parents of two service members killed testified in an earlier portion of the hearing, held by the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness. Those two service members were Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif., and Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.
Peter Vienna, Gnem’s father, described his anguish and said he hoped the families can make the military stronger by keeping attention on several deaths in training in recent years.
Vienna said he refused to characterize the disaster as a “mishap,” as the military does, given that the details of the investigation show a “reckless disregard for human life by a command that ignored its own safety standards and operational procedures.”
In a phone interview afterward, Vienna said the military did not notify his family before the hearing that Castellvi had been suspended. The service would have “lost all credibility” if it had not made the move, he said.
“What it tells us is that it was the pressure that was being put on,” Vienna said, citing recent news coverage and opinion pieces raising questions why Castellvi still had his job. “It just looked like the standard playbook of higher-ups protecting the brass and putting all of the blame on colonels, lieutenant colonels and lower officers.”
During the hearing, Peter Ostrovsky said that his son had told him a week before he was killed that AAVs “sink all the time.” The investigation found that they were in “horrible” condition, and should not have been approved for waterborne operations.
“It was hard for me to believe that statement,” Ostrovsky said. “But now I know that there was more to the story that was the basis for his concern.”
The other service members who died were Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, Calif.; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis.; Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Tex.; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Tex.; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Ore.; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif.
The officers who were removed from their positions include Col. Christopher Bronzi, the commanding officer of the 15th Expeditionary Unit, and Lt. Col. Michael Regner, the battalion commander who reported to Bronzi.