Battle Rattle

PHOTOS: New images show impact of deadly Hawthorne mortar blast

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A newly-released collection of photographs from the Marine Corps depicts the horrific aftermath of a March 18, 2013 explosion that claimed the lives of seven Camp Lejeune Marines who were conducting live-fire training in Hawthorne, Nev.

A previously released command investigation, obtained by Marine Corps Times, revealed that the source of the tragic accident was a mortar tube that was unintentionally double-loaded during night training.

Three Marine officers were dismissed in the wake of the tragedy.

New photographs, released to Marine Corps Times this week through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal the force of the blast and its chaotic aftermath. One image shows a shredded flak jacket, with bulletproof plates pockmarked by shrapnel. Another depicts a mortar fuze mangled from impact with another mortar’s tailfin assembly.

The photos corroborate investigators’ findings that a double-loaded tube was to blame. The investigation also found that insufficient training and “a perceived sense of urgency” during the training exercise may have led to the disaster. Questions about how the error happened remain. One thing is certain: the incident underscores the risks Marines take to serve–even in stateside training.

Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command

Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command

Debris scattered over the firing range the day after the deadly blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

Debris scattered over the firing range the day after the deadly blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

Photo shows a tattered and bloody flak jacket following the Hawthorne blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

Photo shows a tattered and bloody flak jacket following the Hawthorne blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

This mangled mortar fuze shows the intensity of the deadly explosion. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

This mangled mortar fuze shows the intensity of the deadly explosion. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

This image depicts how the mortar rounds were double-loaded inside the tube, causing the blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

This image depicts how the mortar rounds were double-loaded inside the tube, causing the blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

The ejected M888 mortar round was found, severely damaged, near the site of the blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

The ejected M888 mortar round was found, severely damaged, near the site of the blast. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

This photo shows all the ammo that was collected from the blast site. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

This photo shows all the ammo that was collected from the blast site. Via Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

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Comments

  1. DevilDog1776 Says:
    April 1st, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    To the author:

    Your line, “Three Marine officers were dismissed in the wake of the tragedy,” is inaccurate, unless those three officers were discharged from the Marine Corps.

    According to MCO 1900.16 (MARCORSEPSMAN) page 1-6:

    20. Dismissal
    Separation of a commissioned officer, effected by sentence
    of a general court-martial, or in commutation of such a sentence, or, in time of war, by order of the President, or separation of a warrant officer (WO-1) who is dismissed by order of the President in time of war. A complete severance from all military status.

    It’s perfectly appropriate in this situation to say the officers were “relieved” or even “fired.” It’s not correct to say they were “dismissed.” The article linked in your line also misuses the term.

  2. Brian Says:
    April 1st, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    Wow Devildog 1776 aren’t you a ray of sunshine. Dismissed or relieved doesn’t matter the fact is they are gone. Get off your “SOAPBOX” and preach your MCO and ALMARS and all your other crap elsewhere. I’m not impressed by your so called knowledge. Fact is there are a lot of my brothers who are dead and being a fellow Mortarman it sure in hell wasn’t a “double loaded” round that’s what the Government wants us to believe. They got a bad lot of AMMO and one round detonated in the tube. I have been on the gun-line and seen a double loaded round in a 81mm and it didn’t detonate, we cleared it and proceeded to shoot. We are all being lied to by NCIS and the Government.

  3. Eric Says:
    April 1st, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    DevilDog 1776 has to be a “BOOT BUTTERBAR” that’s for Damm sure. What an idiot. Get a life clown.

  4. Marlene Says:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I don’t know what the exact purpose is of this article but my husband is part of 1/9 and I can guarantee you that none of the guys who went through this or their families will want to see photos of this tragedy displayed and shared. Those killed should be honored and remembered and those who are injured and still recovering and undergoing a ton of surgeries need to be respected and thanked. This article is probably the last thing any of them want to see. I recognize that you feel you are doing everyone a service by reporting on this but some things should not be shown out of respect for they guys who went through it and their families. That flak jacket belonged to someone. That blood was someones blood.

  5. TOW Says:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    The only way to remember something, is to store it or record it. It’s entirely unfortunate this accident happened, but ridding the memory of these men by refusing to investigate and record it’s traumatic experience is only a disservice to those who surround it. I understand the pain something like this brings about, but there is a purpose. Semper Fidelis.

  6. Marlene Says:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 9:09 am

    A purpose to misquote the facts and misrepresent the evidence?

  7. Sgt. P Says:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 9:31 am

    i don’t think all the facts have been revealed yet, nor do i think they intend to do so. i’m currently a mortarman with 1/9 and know almost nothing about what came of the investigation into the hawthorne incident. there are many possibilities as to the why and how of what happened, but we will probably never know which one is the actual reason. it was night, there are human factors that cannot be examined due to the fact that the Marines whose error it could have been are no longer with us. the mechanical errors, problems with the ammunition, or the tube itself, are also hard to recreate, though assumptions can be made. the problem with those assumptions, is that there is no foolproof way to test them and determine how accurate they actually are to the truth…

    the only part that needs to be recorded about this incident, is that training needs to be more carefully executed, not rushed. just because an officer wants something done one way, does not mean that it absolutely NEEDS to be done that way!

    as a mortar section leader, i am the most senior mortarman in a line company, and i am OBLIGATED to execute training for my Marines in the safest way possible, to advise the company and platoon staff how to best employ my weapon system, and to speak up when something doesn’t fit what i know to be the safest and most effective means of employing my weapon. my job is to make sure that my Marines have the best training that i can possibly give them, and that also means the safest. our job is dangerous enough, deploying to places where people are actively trying to kill us. we need to take that extra time when we have it, in training, to make sure that the training we are getting and giving, is the most effective, that we make sure the skills we are passing down to the next generation is correct, and not just a shortcut cuz we don’t have time.

    Semper Fi
    Sgt. P

  8. Sgt 0341 Says:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    I am also a Sgt and a mortarman that mentored and trained 3 of the Marines in that accident. Still with 1/9, I have been following the investigation as each “new” update has been released. From what i see it is just the Marines and the DOD continuing to cover its self over a bad lot of ammo or a discrepancy with the new 60mm tube.

    The tubes shot that day were out in a very cold environment just days before that shoot took place. And i’m not completely sure but i dont feel that when they were designed they tested how they would respond the extreme cold then a warm environment. And to even say the Marines out there had a lack of training, said in other reports, The majority of them had been the Advanced Mortars Course. They were very capable and smarts Marines.

  9. Mortars4Life Says:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    The mortarmen in this case were conducting handheld nighttime firing. It’s easy to see how this happened. Normally during a fire-for-effect the loader is putting rounds into the tube in rapid succession, so muscle memory is built to get rounds into the tube quickly. This isn’t a problem in normal operation because the loader hears the round being fired from the tube and knows the tube is clear to load the next round.

    However, in handheld mode the round is not fired downrange as soon as the loader drops it into the tube, it must be trigger fired by a gunner who is sitting behind the tube, aiming it and keeping the baseplate steady.

    In this case, during a handheld fire-for-effect, the loader loaded a second round into the tube before the gunner could trigger fire the first round, resulting in a “double load” and subsequent detonation when the gunner trigger fired the round underneath the second round.

  10. Wtf Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    This is wrong, they just had another ceremony less than a few weeks ago and your going to request pictures like this what the hell is wrong with you? All the families and brothers want closure not someone to keep pouring salt into the wound! What a shame!

  11. Stupidity Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    This is horrible. You’re a mortarman and you think that this would happen? How can you be an A-Gunner and NOT hear a 60 round leave the tube?

    and 0341 SGT, if you trained 3 of the marines in this incident, you should be put on a Competency Board and removed from the Marine Corps. The quality of training that you left in 1/9 is subpar AT BEST. This is why marines run gun drills, for this exact reason. So that when a MISFIRE occurs, you can react appropriately. In this case, the quality of training was so low that they DIDN’T EVEN RECOGNIZE THE MISFIRE. How can you have the COURAGE to say you trained these Marines. Live with that.

    Marlene. This IS someones blood. That gun team could have been in Afghanistan and this accident may have occurred. Thank God that more people were not injured. Shitty marines like this SGT 0341 should be comp boarded and NJP’d, and before that they should be non rec’d and never promoted. But I bet he did some MCI’s and maybe a B-Billet. But obviously had no tactical knowledge to pass down to his junior marines.

  12. Eric Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Stupid suits you well stupidity are you fucking retarded or what? You don’t know shit fool. What’s your credentials idiot. You don’t even know what the fuck your talking about….

  13. Jp Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 8:47 am

    This had nothing to do with lack of training I knew each of these marines personally and if there I something that can be certain it is that these were quite possibly the best trained and most efficient and proficient marines I have ever known anyone that doubts the fact that is a idiot there is no way it was user error and anyone that thinks it was is just drink the marine corps kool aid and buying into their ignorance

  14. Yall trippin Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Oh, sure. Junior Marines NEVER make mistakes. And this was surely the best trained, most proficient gunline in USMC history. Eugene Sledge must be rolling in his grave.

    They were firing handheld and loaded two rounds and fired. Boom.

    When mishaps happen, there are two inquiries that must be conducted. One is for safety and ASSIGNS NO BLAME, and only wants to get to the bottom of what happened, so that the fleet can learn from the mistake and prevent it again.

    The second investigation is a legal one and assigns blame/culpability if necessary.

    Those most responsible for this mishap already paid the ultimate price. Those indirectly responsible, but still responsible nonetheless, paid with their careers most likely.

  15. Sgt Caleb Patton Says:
    April 12th, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I won’t hide behind a tag and I won’t fall into a keyboard warriors battle. These were my men and I was directly in charge during this training evolution. I understand the need for further investigation into any accident, to learn from what happened. I have to live with what happened on that day and I do so with my head held high. What isn’t investigative reporting is publishing the bloody and shredded flaks of my fallen men. There are certain things that don’t need to be seen by all. Gone but never forgotten rings true in so many ways ladies and gentleman.

  16. Hunter Garth Says:
    April 12th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Imagine losing your son, brother, husband, father. best friends, in my case my junior Marines and one of my peers. Imagine worrying about how the survivors (who are also some of my closest friends) are handling the aftermath. Imagine the countless hours spent grieving by thousands of people who were affected by this. Imagine Marines that served and fought in combat together all going to 7 funerals in a weeks time. Now imagine those people seeing these pictures. I am disgusted by this article and lack of respect in the comments of this article. Marlene, I commend you. I will not get into arguments about what happened, how well trained they were, or who’s fault it is, I will sit here in my living room and remember my brothers in a manner in which they deserve. I pray that the families don’t see these pictures, and if they do I pray that they have comfort knowing how much their warriors are loved by this nation.