A Marine Corp. battalion commander says he would have ended a 2020 training exercise that left nine other Marines dead after their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the southern California coast — if he had accurate information to make just a decision.
While testifying Friday before a Board of Inquiry at California’s Camp Pendleton, Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner insisted his decisions were partly based on what other commanders told him, including that Marines under his watch completed needed swim certifications and that the aging vehicles were repaired and ready for use.
Regner also said he was unaware the Navy had changed its plans the same day and didn’t launch a safety boat.
The three-officer panel will issue a recommendation to the commanding general of Regner’s unit as to whether the decorated officer, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, should be kicked out of the service just shy of his 20-year mark and be denied retirement benefits.
No decision is expected until later this month. It will follow Boards of Inquiry pending for other officers, including one set for Tuesday.
A Marine Corps probe uncovered that poor judgement, inadequate training and shabby maintenance by officers led to the July 30, 2020 sinking of the amphibious assault vehicle in one of the deadliest Marine training accidents in decades.
The vehicle — a kind of seafaring tank — had 16 people aboard when it sank 385 feet off the coast of San Clemente Island. Seven Marines were rescued.
The Marines use these type of vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land.
Regner was relieved of command of the landing team of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shortly after the sinking.
Lt. Col. Michael McDonald argued for government at Friday’s hearing that while Regner is not alone to blame for the tragedy, his “substandard” leadership set the stage for things to go as badly.
“That was just an absolute comedy of errors,” McDonald said. “This didn’t come out of the blue.”
Regner said he was aware that 12 of the 13 amphibious assault vehicles his Marines would be using had problems but that a fellow battalion commander who oversees the vehicles assured him they’d be fixed before the exercise.
He also said he tried to get his Marines extra training in the water and warned senior leaders that his troops had never done this type of exercise.
With Post wire services