Accidents, bad behavior trigger Marine pause to regroup

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2016 4:33 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Disturbed by a series of U.S. Marine aircraft crashes, deaths and incidents of bad behavior, the commandant of the Marine Corps has ordered a one-day pause in operations for the service to regroup, look inward and find ways to improve.

Gen. Robert Neller, in a memo to his commanders, said that more than 140 Marines died this year, and only one was in combat.

"We are seeing too many training accidents and we have a small but not insignificant number of individuals that continue to exhibit destructive behavior," Neller said in the memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Just hours later, two Marine F/A-18 fighter jets collided during a training mission near San Diego. One pilot safely ejected and the other was able to land.

Pointing to incidents of sexual assault, hazing and alcohol abuse, Neller said in the memo, "It is time for us to take a look inward."

He ordered commanders to conduct a one-day stand-down for professional development between now and Dec. 1, for active duty Marines, and gave reserve units until February. In a more broadly distributed message to his entire force, Neller said that while Marines are performing excellently in combat and in response to other disasters, some are stumbling at home.

"In our pre-deployment training and garrison activities, we are falling short," he said in the message sent out Tuesday. "We are losing too many Marines to avoidable death and injury. We have a culture of combat excellence, but we have to guard against complacency and a lack of focus at home station."

The order comes on the heels of a string of crashes and other incidents, including the nighttime collision of two CH-53E transport helicopters off the coast of Oahu in January that killed 12 Marines. The Corps blamed pilot error compounded by low aircraft readiness and a lack of focus on basic aviation practices.

A Marine Harrier jet crashed in September off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, and an F/A-18 Hornet crashed in the California desert a month later. In both accidents the pilots ejected safely.

The incidents of bad behavior include the deaths of two Marine recruits at Parris Island in South Carolina over the past eight months, triggering investigations into widespread hazing and abuse.

The Marine Corps has identified as many as 20 officers, drill instructors and other leaders who face administrative or potential criminal charges for taking part in the alleged misconduct or turning a blind eye to it.

There also have been continued problems with sexual assaults and suicides. According to the Marine Corps, there have been 34 Marine suicides so far this year, compared to 39 in 2015.

Neller has spoken frequently at troop events of his concerns about suicides and alcohol abuse. In February, the wife of a Marine killed by a drunk driver — also a Marine — appeared with Neller at a troop talk to underscore the problem and urge Marines to make smart, responsible decisions about drinking.

Elizabeth Davis' husband, 1st Lt. Matt Davis, was killed in November 2014 at Camp Pendleton in California, when his car was hit by another Marine who was driving under the influence of alcohol.