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A U.S. Navy Seahawk prepares to takeoff from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island during search and rescue operations near San Clemente Island in August last year. .S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick Crosley
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Marine commander relieved of duty due to deadly ocean training accident

CAMP PENDLETON — The commanding officer of a Camp Pendleton-based Marine unit was relieved of command today following an investigation into an assault amphibious vehicle training accident off San Clemente Island that killed nine service members last summer.

Col. Christopher J. Bronzi was relieved of command of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command, following completion of the command investigation into the assault amphibious vehicle mishap,” according to a U.S. Marine Corps statement.

The findings of that investigation have not been publicly released.

Members of the unit took part in the July 30 training exercise aboard the amphibious craft that took on water and sank with 16 service members aboard.

One of the Marines — 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez of New Braunfels, Texas — died at the scene. The bodies of seven other Marines and one Navy sailor were recovered one week after the accident when the AAV was pulled out of the ocean.

They were identified as:
— Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, a Navy hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU; and
— Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.

Concurrent with Bronzi’s firing, the Marine Corps said Lt Gen. Steven R. Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, placed Col. Fridrik Fridriksson in command of the 15th MEU.

Bronzi’s firing is the second publicly announced in connection with the fatal accident. Last fall, Lt. Col. Michael Regner was removed from his post as commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit “due to a loss in trust and confidence in his ability to command,” according to the Marine Corps.

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