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Decorated Marine relieved of command after deadly sinking of assault vehicle off California

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CAMP PENDLETON — The decorated leader of a Camp Pendleton-based landing team was relieved of command on Tuesday after an amphibious assault vehicle sank off San Clemente Island, killing eight Marines and a sailor, military officials announced.

Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner was relieved of command based on “a substantial amount of information and data,” according to a statement by Lt. Gen. Karsten S. Heckl, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Regner, a decorated Marine who served on multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, commanded the 1st Battalions/4th Marine Regiment on Camp Pendleton.

“Heckl relieved Regner due to a loss in trust and confidence in his ability to command” as a result of the July 30 accident, according to a Marine Corps statement.

After a training raid with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 13 AAVs and their crews left the northwest beaches of the island off the Southern California Coast on July 30 to return to the USS Somerset, a Navy transport dock waiting just offshore. One vehicle took on more water than it could handle and sank. On board were 16 service members.

Half were able to escape the vehicle. One, Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 19, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead on the scene, while two other Marines were rushed to the hospital.

Onboard and killed when the AAV sank were Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, a rifleman; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, a rifleman; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, a hospital corpsman; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 20, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 22, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, a rifleman.

The bodies of seven Marines and a sailor were found inside the 26-ton Marine Corps seafaring vehicle and raised from the ocean floor on Friday, Aug. 7, a week after they sank.

The training accident — called the deadliest in the history of the Marine Corps’ amphibious assault vehicle — is being investigated by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and by the Naval Safety Center.

A line of duty investigation, done by the expeditionary force, will review operational aspects, including the vehicle’s watertight integrity, the leadership and whether training protocols were followed. Heckl’s relief of command is the first action in the fallout from the investigation.

The safety center investigation will go further into inspecting the vehicle and looking for causes of the sinking, and will recommend corrective actions to prevent future tragedies.

Regner commissioned in 2002, following his graduation from the Citadel. He is the son of Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, who retired in 2015 as the director of Marine Corps Staff at the Pentagon.

Regner is an infantryman and is decorated with Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Gold Star, the Navy Achievement Medal with a Gold Star and the Combat Action Ribbon with a Gold Star. He is from Charleston, S.C.

While Marine Corps officials on Tuesday did not name his replacement, a local officer in the area has been selected to replace him, officials said.

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