Brigadier General Jim Lukeman (L): Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Brigadier General Jim Lukeman. I am the commanding general of 2nd Marine Division. It’s with a heavy heart that I stand before you today, to share with you the following information about the incident that occurred last night that killed seven of our brave Marines and injured seven other servicemembers with the 2nd Marine Division.
We send our prayers and condolences to the families of the Marines and sailors who have been killed and injured in this tragic accident. Our first priority is to provide them with the support they need during this very difficult time, and we’re doing that right now.
The cause of the accident is under investigation. Let me tell you what we know at this time. The unit was participating in a mountain exercise, an exercise conducted at the mountain warfare training center and several other area locations including the Hawthorne army depot. The Marines were conducting live fire and maneuver training at the Hawthorne army depot.
At about 9:55pm last night, 18 March, a mortar round exploded in the mortar tube causing the deaths of seven and injuring seven others. We don’t know yet what caused this malfunction. A team of investigators has begun the investigation, to figure out just what happened. The injured were transferred to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada for treatment and further evaluation. Currently, two Marines and one sailor are very seriously injured, three other Marines are seriously injured, and a seventh Marine is being treated for minor injuries.
I won’t talk about the specific unit or the names of the servicemembers at this time because we have not yet completed next-of-kin notification. We will provide the identities of the Marines that lost their lives 24 hours after the primary next-of-kin have received official Headquarters Marine Corps notification. We’ll provide updates on the statuses of those injured as this information becomes available. We appreciate your support as we mourn the loss of these brave Marines who gave their lives to defend the nation. We will remember their courage and their sacrifice. Our thoughts are with the families as we grieve for those who have lost and pray for the recovery of those injured.
I will take your questions at this time.
Reporter (R): Sir, what are you doing for the families here who are just receiving this difficult news?
L: The casualty assistance officers are assigned for the primary next-of-kin and also the secondary next-of-kin in some cases for the Marines that we’ve lost, and they’ll provide the support to those family members and help them through the process as long as they need that support.
R: Sir, is the Marine Corps’ suspension about 60 mm mortars still in effect? The one issued last night? Or has it been narrowed in scope in any way?
L: My understanding is that the specific lot of 60 mm ammunition has been suspended.
R: Can you get the lot number? Is there any way you can get that information?
L: We can get that information. I don’t know what the lot number was, but we can provide that information.
R: Were the Marines involved, were they actually training at the mountain warfare training center?
L: The accident actually occurred on the Hawthorne army depot. The units that go out to the mountain warfare training center often train at the Hawthorne army depot which is close by Bridgeport where the mountain warfare training center is.
R: Was there any difficulty in rescuing the people that were injured? Cause I know it was a night time.
L: I am not aware of any difficulties in evacuating the injured Marines or sailors at this time.
R: Can you describe the nature of the injuries sustained?
L: Not more than three Marines and a sailor were very seriously injured, three Marines were seriously injured, and the seventh has been treated for minor injuries but that’s the extent of the injuries that I can give you.
R: How long have we been training at Hawthorne? Were they preparing for a specific deployment?
L: The unit had been out at both Bridgeport, California and Hawthorne for about a month, and this is part of the type of training that we do just to maintain a force of readiness that the nation demands of the Marines Corps. This was not specifically linked to a nearby deployment, no.
R: Do you have any idea how this ranks as far as homeland death tolls for the Marines?
L: I don’t. This is a tragedy, but I don’t know how it ranks against other tragedies like this.
R: Can you give us the information on what unit it is?
L: No, I’d rather not talk about the unit at this time. We need to get the word to all of the next-of-kin before we start doing that.
L: Three Marines and a sailor were very seriously injured, three Marines were seriously injured, and the seventh has been treated for minor injuries.
R: Sir is this different than having a Marine killed overseas?
L: Every loss of life, is heartbreaking, whether that occurs in Afghanistan, Hawthorne Nevada, Camp Lejeune N.C. or anywhere else. Every loss is a tragedy.
L: Our brave Marines and sailors are magnificent, and they continue to sacrifice for this country and do all that the nation asks of them. It’s truly an honor to work with them and they’re tremendous Americans, every one of them. And we can’t thank enough, from the support of a great nation to continue to provide the types of young men and women that serve in today’s Marine Corps and Navy. Again, they knew exactly what they got into when they joined the service, and they’re simply magnificent. So it’s a tragic loss when you lose some of the Nation’s finest.
R: Can you clarify the total number?
L: My understanding is we have seven killed and seven injured.
R: Sir, did you say a single round exploded, or did you know that yet?
L: My understanding was one mortar round in a mortar tube. Let me tell you, the investigation will look into this and find out exactly what happened and I think we’re pretty early with that at this point.
L: This type of training is really the type of training that we do to be able to be that force of readiness. It is what’s required of our nation’s military, to do the things this nation asks us to do.
L: Hawthorne army depot we’ve been using for some years. It’s proximity to Bridgeport Mountain Warfare training center allows us to do some training at Hawthorne that we can’t do at the mountain warfare training center. When we’re out there on a deployment for training, it’s a very useful venue for us to use.
R: This mortar, can you define what that is and were they carrying it or was it stationary?
L: The mortar is a lightweight company mortar, and it’s fired from a stationary position. We can provide you with more technical specifics on the mortar if you want that.
L: I don’t know exactly. The investigation is going to look into that, to see exactly where everybody was when the accident occurred.
L: That’s again, we don’t know at this point. We’ll have to look to the investigation to determine exactly what happened.
R: Can you give us the ages of all or any of these Marines?
L: No, I can’t.
L: Let me just wrap up again by saying to the families of our Marines and sailors, that our hearts go out to you. We appreciate your sacrifice and we’ll do all we can to continue to support you. Thank you very much.