Navy secretary censures officers for failures in fatal disaster at sea

Placeholder while article actions load

The Navy Department has issued letters of censure to five military officers, including a retired three-star general, in response to a disaster at sea that killed eight Marines and a U.S. sailor, officials said Monday.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, who oversees the Navy and Marine Corps, took punitive action after reviewing a military investigation into the sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle off the California coast in July 2020. The investigation found that insufficient training, complacency by Marine Corps officers, and a delayed, chaotic rescue effort contributed to the nine deaths.

Del Toro censured some officers who were removed from their jobs shortly after the sinking, but expanded culpability to include Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, who was about to step down and retire the day the disaster occurred. Osterman was “responsible for mitigating the inherent risks in operations and training,” Del Toro wrote, and “did not fully appreciate the potential negative impact” of the coronavirus pandemic on the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which fell under his command.

“The Marine Corps requires its leaders to accomplish the mission, even in seemingly insurmountable circumstances,” Del Toro wrote in his letter to Osterman, dated Sunday. “You failed to identify and mitigate the human, material, and training failures that resulted in this mishap. Accordingly, you are censured for failing to effectively ensure appropriate levels of training and material readiness in units under your command.”

Deadly Marine Corps disaster at sea was ‘tragic’ and ‘preventable,’ investigation finds

The other officers censured include Marine Col. Christopher Bronzi, then-commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; Navy Capt. Stewart Bateshansky, who oversaw an amphibious task involved; Navy Capt. John Kurtz, then-commanding officer of the USS Somerset; and Lt. Col. Keith Brenize, then-commanding officer of the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion. All held leadership roles, and Kurtz oversaw the ship from which the vehicle was launched while at sea.

Navy Capt. Jereal Dorsey, a spokesman for Del Toro, said in an email that the secretary decided to make the decision after a “careful review of the command investigations and discussions with senior leaders” within the Navy Department.

The censured officers could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Marine Corps previously found that the 35-year-old armored vehicle — designed to carry Marines ashore in combat — suffered numerous leaks and came from a fleet of vehicles that was in bad condition. Strains created by the pandemic complicated the training schedules of the Marines involved, the service found.

The dead included 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.; Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif.; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.; 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.; Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif.

Leave a Comment