A Navy captain who was censured by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro for his role in a fatal Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle mishap has been tapped to command an aircraft carrier.
Navy Capt. John Kurtz commanded the amphibious transport dock Somerset on July 30, 2020, when the AAV sunk off California, killing eight Marines and a sailor.
Del Toro’s June 10, 2022, censure letter notes that the investigation into the AAV sinking “did not establish that any of USS SOMERSET’S actions or inactions caused the sinking.”
More than two years after that disaster, Kurtz has been selected by the fiscal 2024 aviation major command screening board to helm a carrier, according to undated Navy documents posted online.
Which carrier Kurtz would command, or when he might take the helm, have not been made public.
Kurtz’s censure letter states that he failed in his duties to oversee AAV operations as the primary control officer.
“As the primary control officer, you ultimately bear responsibility to ensure positive control and leadership oversight over waterborne AAV operations and you failed to do so,” Del Toro wrote. “Accordingly, you are hereby censured.”
The letter further states that Somerset’s AAV briefings didn’t include “robust discussion of the actual dangers involved in AAV operations.”
“As a result, your crew was poorly informed of the risks and measures required for safe AAV operations,” the letter states. “There was confusion regarding how safety boat requirements would be met, and you did not seek to verify those requirements were met once you became aware that AAVs were in the water.”
A Marine Corps investigation into the incident found serious deficiencies and errors in judgment made by top leaders, while the Navy investigation mostly exposed flaws in the way the two services interacted during AAV operations.
A platoon of AAVs left the Somerset on the evening of the mishap and used two other AAVs as safety boats, because other boats promised by the Somerset were not operational.
That was within standards at the time of the incident, Marine Corps Times reported last year.
While an undisclosed number of sailors were administratively disciplined following the incident, none were fired from positions of leadership, Navy officials said in October 2021.
Kurtz handed over the reins of command of Somerset to his successor during a standard change-of-command ceremony in September 2021.
Navy officials did not clarify by Navy Times’ deadline where Kurtz is currently assigned.
Selection board deliberations like those that led to selecting Kurtz for future carrier command are not public record, and such boards do not require higher-level review by the SECNAV or chief of naval operations before they’re finalized and published, Navy spokeswoman Capt. Reann Mommsen said in an email to Navy Times.
While not a legal punishment, secretarial censure letters are entered into a member’s personnel record.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.