The top Marine Corps leader on Tuesday ordered every Marine unit to review its approach to safety, after two aircraft crashes within days of each other killed four Marines total, and a Marine died during live-fire training earlier in the month.
Acting Commandant Gen. Eric Smith ordered units to gather at various levels — battalion, squadron, platoon and so on — to discuss their “culture of safety” no later than Sept. 15.
“Every aspect of training from safe weapons handling to proper ground guides to the ruthless adherence to standards in our aircraft and vehicles, demonstrates that we are indeed professional warriors,” Smith, who also is the assistant commandant, wrote in an all-Marine message Tuesday.
Marines will have to participate in group discussions about safety, centered on a mishap scenario applicable to their unit, according to the message. The discussions should focus on the conditions leading up to the mishap and what could be done to prevent them.
Unit commanders must ask their junior Marines to provide “honest feedback on perceived hazards,” according to the message, which stresses, “they should expect to do so without fear of reprisal.”
In these discussions, Marines must discuss preparation for missions; compliance with standards, even in difficult environments; anticipating, mitigating and accepting risks; and prioritizing sleep.
The commanders will write reflections on what the discussions indicate about how equipped their units are to identify and mitigate risks, and where the units need more resources, according to the message. They will send those reflections through the chain of command to the Marine Corps’ Safety Division, which will use the feedback in upcoming executive councils and boards on safety.
“We can, we must, and we will conduct that training [for combat] from a start point of risk being reduced to the maximum extent possible,” Smith wrote. “The hours we spend in this review is our chance to discuss HOW we will do this. It is not a venue for lectures, or for wagging our finger at a Marine or a command.”
In fiscal year 2022, 48 Marines died in mishaps, the majority involving personal motor vehicles while the Marines were off duty, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
Nine Marines died that year in two separate MV-22 Osprey crashes. Six other Marines died in training incidents: one from drowning, one from a gunshot wound, two during physical training and two from a military vehicle accident, according to Naval Safety Command data.
Suicide was still the leading cause of death for Marines in 2022, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
The announcement of the safety review comes days after an MV-22 Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Australia, killing Cpl. Spencer Collart, 21; Capt. Eleanor LeBeau, 29; and Maj. Tobin Lewis, 37.
Of the remaining 20 Marines who were aboard the Osprey when it crashed Sunday, three remained in the hospital, with one in critical condition, the Marine Corps said Tuesday.
On Aug. 24, an F/A-18D Hornet crashed near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, killing the aircraft’s pilot and lone crew member, Maj. Andrew “Simple Jack” Mettler.
The Corps already had been reeling from another tragedy: On Aug. 17, Lance Cpl. Joseph Whaley died during live-fire training at School of Infantry-West, Camp Pendleton, California.
Smith did not refer specifically to the recent mishaps but said the motivation for Marines to provide him with “high quality recommendations” as part of the safety review “lies in the names of Marines who cannot participate due to being lost in mishaps.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, commended the safety review as “the right action to take.”
“I and my colleagues will continue to follow this issue closely to ensure the completion of the safety review in the coming weeks and that corrective action, should it be needed, is taken,” he said in a Wednesday statement to Marine Corps Times.
“I commend the Marine Corps for taking steps to examine units’ safety and identify much-needed improvements to current procedures,” Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Florida, said in a statement to Marine Corps Times on Wednesday. “I encourage all branches of the military to follow suit to prevent future training accidents and more importantly, save lives.”
One of Buchanan’s constituents, Army Spc. Nicholas Panipinto, died in 2019 when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle overturned during a road test in South Korea. Buchanan has since introduced multiple provisions emphasizing military training safety into defense authorization acts.
“The glaring and widespread deficiencies in current military training and safety procedures have led to far too many deaths,” Buchanan said.
In his message to the force, Smith said safety wasn’t just a peacetime issue: “When we lose Marines we are not only heartbroken, but we are also less ready for combat.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.