By, Sal Gambino
On July 31, 2020 we were horrified to learn that an amphibious assault vehicle carrying 15 Marines and a Navy sailor sank near a Navy-owned island off the coast of Southern California, leaving one of the Marines dead and eight missing.
They were traveling in a vehicle that resembles a seafaring tank from the shores of San Clemente Island to the USS Somerset the evening of July 30 when they reported the vehicle was taking on water.
Two Marines who were rescued were injured, with one hospitalized in critical condition and the other in stable condition.
We later learned that Lance Cpl. Guillermo Perez who had suffered a serious head injury did not survive.
All of the Marines on the vehicle ranged in age from 19 to early 30s were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and were involved in a routine military exercise when the vehicle started taking
on water, the Marine Corps said.
The Marine Expeditionary Force is the Marine Corps’ main war fighting organization. There are three such groups which are made up of ground, air and logistics forces.
All were wearing combat gear, including body armor as well as a flotation device.
The vehicle which is designed to hold up to 24 people with 280 pounds of equipment each has three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, and designed to be naturally buoyant.
So, how did something that is designed to be naturally buoyant sink?
According to USMC Commandant Gen. David Berger, three Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles that left after training beach took the normal preparatory steps before entering the water but they hit rough seas after passing the surf zone on their way back to the amphibious transport dock Somerset from San Clemente Island, leaving one AAV filling with more water than it could pump out.
Now, here’s the unofficial story.
The AAV that sank was being towed back to the ship because the engine wouldn’t start. Because of their age, when they are running and in the water they leak so much that it is not uncommon for them to have ankle to knee deep water inside.
The AAVs have 4 bilge pumps but the engine needs to be running in order for the pumps to work.
Instead of leaving the deadlined AAV on the beach and allow the Marines to return to the ship in the other two AAVs, a decision was made to have them ride back to the ship in the deadlined AAV that filled up with water.
Sadly, the towline had to be cut or there would have been more casualties.
All the Marines who died in the mishap were infantry riflemen. Gnem was their corpsman.
Baltierra, 18, was from Corona, California. The day before his death marked the one-year point from when he shipped off to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. He later completed his military occupational specialty training as an 0311 rifleman at the School of Infantry-West.
Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California, reported to boot camp in February 2019. He, too, trained at SOI-West.
Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, reported to boot camp in San Diego the same day Baltierra did in July 2019. He then trained as a rifleman at SOI-West.
Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California, joined the Navy in May 2017. He reported to 1st Marine Regiment in December 2019 after completing training as a fleet Marine force hospital corpsman. Gnem had a Navy Good Conduct Medal.
Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, reported to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego in June 2019. He also completed training as an 0311 rifleman at SOI-West.
Rodd, 23, of Cypress, Texas, reported to boot camp in San Diego in January 2017. In addition to training at SOI-West, Rodd also completed Marine Corps Security Force Guard Training in Virginia in 2017. He served with Security Force Regiment before reporting to 1/4. Rodd had a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.
Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, went to boot camp in June 2019. He completed his MOS training at SOI-West.
Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, went to boot camp in San Diego in December 2018. He also trained at SOI-West.
Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California, went to boot camp in San Diego in September 2017. Like the other riflemen, Villanueva trained at SOI-West before he, too, reported to Marine Corps Security Force Guard Training in Virginia. He served with the Security Force Regiment before joining 1/4 and had previously deployed.
Their bodies were recovered a week later still inside the AAV resting in 385 feet below.
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time for a training mishap with one of these aging AAVs.
On Wednesday September 13, 2017 during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton an amphibious assault vehicle caught fire and seriously injured 14 Marines and a sailor. Details about incident, including the location and what caused the fire, are not available.
The Liberal US Supreme Court says desecrating the United States Flag is protected under the First Amendment as Free Speech.
Well, this is me exercising my First Amendment Right.
My son was on that training exercise and by the grace of God his name isn’t listed as one of the victims. I would not be satisfied with General Berger’s explanation of what happened. Sure, it filled up with more water than it could pump out.
That’s because the pumps weren’t working.