After investigations into at least two fatal Marine accidents unveiled troubling warning signs that ultimately contributed to the deaths of 15 service members, the Marine Corps has unveiled a new safety tool so leaders “get it right” when planning dangerous training events and operations.
Access to a new Marine Corps Mishap Library has been granted to the entire force. The library, according to a new servicewide message, will provide easily accessible vignettes for leaders to review “what wrong looks like.” It was signed by Lt. Gen. Lewis Craparotta, the head of Training and Education Command.
“Being a Marine is a dangerous line of work, and it requires the careful study of past errors in decision making, judgment, and risk management,” Craparotta wrote.
All Marines are encouraged to access the new library, which is available on MarineNet, the service’s distance-learning network. It includes lessons for the entire force and aviation and ground communities.
The goal, Craparotta wrote, is to help “leaders at all levels to learn from past mistakes.”
The tool was unveiled the same day top Marine Corps and Navy leaders were called to testify about safety on Capitol Hill following the July 2020 amphibious assault vehicle accident that killed eight Marines and one sailor. The investigation found a host of failures led the nearly 40-year-old vehicle to sink off California’s coast on its way back to a nearby ship.
Leaders determined the accident was preventable. Mechanical, training and leadership problems were overlooked, setting the scene for a host of safety checks being skipped.
The vehicle was not in working shape, letting water seep in while it was in the open ocean. The Marines inside didn’t have the proper safety training to know how to exit a sinking vehicle and were left to use their own cell phones for light inside the dark vehicle as it sank, since the emergency lights that should have illuminated escape hatches were not working.
“Every time I review the details of this tragedy, I’m struck by its senselessness,” Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, assistant deputy commandant of Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations, told lawmakers last week.
Assistant Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas said some of the actions taken leading up to and during the accident were reckless. Olson also said he “was surprised at how cavalier some of the actions were.”
“I would say that some of them rose to recklessness,” he said.
An investigation into a midair collision that happened off the coast of Japan less than two years earlier also found signs of training and readiness shortfalls that were overlooked by leaders. That collision led to the deaths of six Marines — one in an F/A-18D Hornet and five in a KC-130J Hercules.
Despite the readiness shortfalls, the Marines were sent into the air to perform a dangerous nighttime midair refueling exercise.
The Marine Corps has reprimanded several senior leaders in the wake of the accidents, though probes into the AAV sinking remain ongoing. Some families who lost loved ones in the accidents and lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the punishments haven’t gone far enough.
“I trace all of these issues back to just a lack of concern about safety — it’s not there,” Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat, said in April. “That is not built into the Marine Corps’ readiness.”
A Marine Corps safety expert told Military.com he was troubled by many of the shortfalls leading up to the 2020 AAV accident and the 2018 midair collision.
“This is not what right looks like on the most basic level,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigations’ findings freely.
Marines are good at managing risks in tactical situations, he said, but the investigations into fatal training accidents show signs of lapses outside of combat situations.
“We can’t relax and go into an administrative mindset and wind up not accounting for a situation where significant hazards are starting to accumulate,” he said.
It’s crucial that all Marines access the new mishap library, he added, because it’s not only vital that leaders understand past errors, but for rank-and-file troops — corporals, sergeants and lieutenants — to know how to spot warning signs, too.
Publishing the mishap library is just the first phase in a three-part effort to improve Marine Corps safety, Craparotta wrote in his message. The lessons will also be linked to training and readiness events, he added, and videos will soon be available.
Marines are being asked to share any relevant mishap findings that could benefit the entire fleet with contacts in the ground- and aviation-support branches.
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