Opinion

Marine Corps amphibious council should include a parent of service member killed in AAV

The head of the Marine Corps is setting up a “blue-ribbon” commission to look into the Corps’ waterborne, or amphibious, capabilities and need.

He should, given the appalling fiasco on July 30, 2020, when nine young men ― some in their teens ― died a horrific drowning death in the water off Camp Pendleton, California.

Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger now says he will “likely” include “a civilian with non-military safety experience” in his commission. It’s about time there was a non-Marine, non-Navy person in another inquiry. The services should not be “judges in their own case.”

But, better still, Berger needs to include in his commission a parent of one of the nine young people who died needlessly. Those parents suffered the greatest loss of all and their interests should be a top priority.

Nominating a parent representative would show respect and recognition of their awful loss. And, there are some fine candidates among those parents, including a father with federal and state government safety, law enforcement and intelligence experience.

Congress and the public, and above all the grieving parents of those young service members, are getting tired of the Marine Corps ― and all the other military services ― investigating themselves, and declaring year after year, following training deaths, “We’ve got this.”

Not yet they haven’t “got this” ― whether it be eliminating or severely reducing preventable accidents, or allowing commanders’ discretion to kill or minimize cases involving rape or sexual assaults.

It’s time to bring generals and admirals in particular to account, force them to shoulder responsibility and stop passing the blame down the ranks to unit commanders and lower, all the way to junior officers and enlisted. Enough of the buck passing.

There is a culture of poor leadership not just in the Marine Corps, but the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Flag and star officers are paid highly, with major perks.

Many retire and join what President Dwight D. Eisenhower correctly warned of ,“the military-industrial complex,” earning handsome directorships at defense companies or well-remunerated consultancies selling hardware or “advice” to the Department of Defense.

Let’s remember that these generals and admirals have included in their job descriptions keywords like readiness, preparedness and safety.

With rank, one would have thought, comes responsibility and accountability. Instead, there is a culture of avoidance, but punishment for subordinates instead.

These high-ranking officers are public servants, paid by the taxpayers.

This focus on the 2020 AAV sinking never would have come about without the advocacy of those nine families, serious media probing of the amphibious assault vehicle tragedy, a Government Accountability Office deep-dive inquiry into fatal military training rollovers, and strong oversight now by Congressional subcommittee chairs Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, and Rep. John Garamendi. D-California. It largely would have been business as usual.

Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, commander of the 1st Marine Division at the time of the accident, has been given a “counseling” and a written reprimand in his record.

No loss of a star, to be clear. But he at least will not be returning to his post of inspector general of the Marine Corps or advance to another star. He probably will retire. He should.

So over to you, Gen. Berger: Why did you choose a pretty minimal penalty for Castellvi? How inclusive will you be in your commission membership? Can you include another civilian in your commission?

That would not only be smart optics. It would be justice, and then some.

Michael H. C. McDowell is a fellow in the International Security Program of New America.

His son, Marine 1st. Lt. H. Conor McDowell, 24, a troop commander of 1st. Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, was killed in a preventable training accident at Camp Pendleton, California, on the morning of May 9, 2019, when his light armored vehicle rolled over, killing him instantly.

The opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Corps Times or its staff. If you would like to respond, or have a commentary on another Marine Corps topic, please contact Editor Andrea Scott at ascott@militarytimes.com.

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