USMC: Human error caused Hawthorne’s live-fire accident

The command investigation into the tragic death of seven Marines and the injury of eight other service members of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, at Hawthorne Army Depot on March 18 has been completed.

The Marine Corps at Marine Corps Base Camp LeJune, N.C. said the deaths and injuries occurred during the conduct of a company-level, live-fire night attack on Range 500 aboard Hawthorne Army Depot when a 60mm mortar round exploded in the immediate vicinity of the mortar section’s firing position.

Brig. Gen. James Lukeman, commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, instigated a command investigation.

The investigation established that human error was the cause of the mortar mishap. According to the investigation, the Marines employing one of the mortars did not follow correct procedures, resulting in the detonation of a high explosive round at the mortar position.

The investigation also determined that the mortar section had not conducted appropriate preparatory training leading up to the live-fire event.

As a result of the investigation’s findings, Lukeman relieved Lt. Col. Andrew McNulty, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, earlier this month.

Capt. Kelby Breivogel, company commander of Company A, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Douglas Derring, the battalion’s Marine infantry weapons officer, or Gunner, were also relieved of their duties.

Lukeman relieved those officers because he said he lost trust and confidence in their ability to ensure proper preparation for and conduct of live-fire training events.

Lt. Col. Corey Collier assumed command of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, on May 23.

The Marine Corps reports no Marines or sailors have been charged with a crime or violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and no charges are anticipated.

The investigation also determined that the mortar system functioned properly at Hawthorne and found no reason to question the safety of the system when it is employed as designed and as Marines are trained to employ it.

The Marines who were killed on March 18 are Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.; Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn.; Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio; Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.; Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md.; and Corporal Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill.

The names of the injured are Pfc. James P. Davies, Pfc. Trent M. Martin, Lance Cpl. Sean J. Burke, Lance Cpl. Douglas L. Hand II, Lance Cpl. Myles E. Harris, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ian S. McClanahan, Sgt. Caleb W. Patton, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan P. West.


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