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NCIS: Marine crushed by bulldozer as he slept in foxhole

Pfc. Casey James Holmes killed in March during training at Twentynine Palms base

Jan. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms is seen in a May 2013 file photo. (Crystal Chatham/The Desert Sun)
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TWENTYNINE PALMS — A Marine killed in March during a training mishap at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms was crushed by a bulldozer as he slept in a shallow, hand-dug foxhole, a report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service said.

Pfc. Casey James Holmes, a Chico native who was 20 at the time of his death, was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment from Marine Corps Base Hawaii. He was at the combat center to participate in the Marine Corps’ nearly monthlong Integrated Training Exercise, known as ITX.

The Chico Enterprise-Record recently obtained the NCIS report after filing three Freedom of Information Act requests with the agency. The first two were rejected with NCIS saying the investigation was still underway and nothing could be released, staff writer Roger H. Aylworth reports.

The Enterprise-Record shared the 126-page NCIS report with The Desert Sun. The names of all of those interviewed in the course of the investigation had been redacted.

FULL TEXT: NCIS report on Marine training death at Twentynine Palms

Holmes, of 2nd Platoon, India Company, was taking part in the battalion-wide Final Exercise (FITX) on March 11, 2013. His unit was scheduled to deploy to Southeast Asia the following month.

As part of the exercise, his company had been pushing north through the open desert in the remote Quackenbush Training Area, seizing multiple objectives along the way. The Marines’ day started at 4:30 a.m., and shortly before sundown, they were instructed to take up defensive positions and to dig fighting holes where they would sleep that night.

Because of the late hour and the impending darkness, the Marines were directed to dig “skirmisher” positions, a shallow hole about six inches deep. In the morning, they would dig true “fighter holes” — deep holes dug down about chest high.

Holmes and other members of the regiment, known as the 3/3, were in place along a defensive line about one kilometer long. Amphibious assault vehicles were interspersed with Marines along the line.

The space between fighting holes was 15 to 30 meters, depending on terrain.

There was no moonlight that evening. Just the faint glow from ChemLights attached to the antennas of the vehicles.

“As we relaxed in our holes, Holmes commented about how many stars were visible out there and how he missed the California sunsets and how I needed to visit his home in Chico, Calif. and meet his family and friends,” a Marine said in his statement included in the report. “I grabbed some pretzels out of my assault pack and started to eat them. I remember asking Holmes something — but don’t remember what — and noticed he was already asleep. I ate about half of the pretzels and put the rest into my Happy Suit (cold weather jacket) pocket. Next thing I know, I woke up to bright lights and dust in the air.”

At about 10:15 p.m., he saw what he thought was an amphibious assault vehicle moving “super close” to him.

“So close I believed the right side track was going to run over me. I immediately rolled over to my right side and to my knees as I got out of the way of the vehicle. The AAV vehicle turned out to be a bulldozer ... I thought, ‘wow! That was really close. Oh my God, ‘Holmes!’ The dozer stopped and I remember looking over to Holmes’ position and didn’t see him.”

The Marine ran up and jumped in the hole and supported his comrade’s head.

Medical personnel immediately provided medical aid, but Holmes died from multiple blunt force trauma. The battalion surgery directed all ongoing lifesaving effort to cease at 11:23 p.m., according to the report.

The report found that Holmes was run over by an up-armored, Motor Crawler Tractor 850 JR operated by a member of the First Combat Engineer Battalion from Camp Pendleton whose name was redacted in the report.

“The investigation established that ground guides were not in use at the time of the accident and the defensive line in place by 3/3 and 2nd AABN in the immediate area of the accident was identified by a single chemical light affixed to an AAV nearest (victim) Holmes’ position,” the report read.

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