Breaking News: USMC tragedy with 60mm Commando Mortar in Training
By Miles Vining

On the night of Monday, March 18th 2013, a great tragedy befell the United States Marine Corps. While Marines of Alpha Company 1st Battalion 9th Marines were conducting a company live fire range on Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada, a mortar system suffered a catastrophic misfire, immediately causing fourteen casualties. Four Marines died almost instantly while three others passed away while being medically evacuated. The remaining seven were rushed to civilian care facilities and are either all discharged to active duty or are doing well in the hospital. They ranged from a young Marine just out of the School of Infantry several months prior, to a twice deployed Marine about to leave the service and restart his education outside the Marine Corps. Most had made the Battalion's previous combat deployment to Afghanistan. They were sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers.

The actions taken immediately after the explosion was nothing short of heroic. One Marine didn’t tell anyone that he took shrapnel to the hand until the morning after because he wanted to take care of the wounded. Another individual received a traumatic facial injury but refused medical care and directed others to the more severely wounded because he was able to maintain an airway.

Current investigations are underway to discover the cause of the misfire. One of the issues is that the system used was the new “Lightweight” 60MM mortar systems. Use of these has ceased worldwide until the investigation is over. Although most civilians will never be able to own or utilize mortar systems or similar high explosive ordnance, this accident reminds us of the dangers and responsibilities when dealing with such equipment. The horrible part about the explosion was that the mortar men were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing and what they were trained for. There was no human error involved as is the case in a firearm’s negligent discharge. Until the investigation proves otherwise, it literally was the one in a million chance that actually followed through.

Here are the seven Marines killed while performing their duties:
Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.
Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla.
Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn.
Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio
Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.
Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md.
Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (May 2013)
and was posted online on March 29, 2013


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