Sep 8, 2020

How A 2018 Crash Resulted In Key Changes In Marine Corps Investigations


Researching In The Aftermath Of A Tragedy

AirwingerTwo years ago, Marine Corps families received a phone call they never should have. Families of our military personnel prepare themselves for the worst. They know that it could come. But rarely do we think about the fact that deaths can happen due to the mistakes of other Americans. This is difficult for many families to handle. On December 6, 2018, off the coast of Japan, an F/A18D Hornet and KC-130J Hercules attempted a nighttime midair refueling.

Due to a severe error, the two craft collided, killing both the Hornet pilot and five Marines on the C-130. After almost two full years, an investigation found severe issues with how the event was handled by the brass. The initial investigation found that the night time and drug use were among the issues that caused the airplane crash. Furthermore, the Marine Corps believed that one of the pilots was not qualified to fly at night. Now it appears that the initial investigation did not do its proper homework and released misleading findings. This will have clear implications for internal review procedures. Not to mention the means in which nighttime refueling occurs. Furthermore, it also requires swift action by the military to reassert confidence among its members.

For Michael Ehline, this is far more than just an event that happened far away. This is about the soul of our nation. Ehline is the current head of the Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys APLC. However, his experience in law informs him only so much. Much of his expertise-- and care-- on the subject is due to his personal experiences. Ehline is a former member of the United States Marine Corps.

He was discharged honorably after a severe injury. For him, the injury and death of other members of the Corps is not just an academic exercise. It is often life or death for the young men and women who take a pledge to defend our nation. And Ehline learned this lesson many times growing up. His father, Paul Ehline, served in Vietnam with the USMC over two separate tours. For both generations of Ehline, the concern was the same.

Who is taking care of our brothers and sisters in arms? There is so much obligation the military-- and the federal government has for our service members past and present. That is why Ehline studied this issue and decided to write about it. Of course, there are key legal implications, but more than just that-- there are lives at stake and the future of the military. Ehline spends much of his current time as the head of a key military-centric law firm in Los Angeles.

That's how he carved out a reputation as a fighter for those who donned the uniform. He is also available for interviews or for comment on the issue. He can be reached at (213) 596-9642 or at losangeles@ehlinelaw.com.

Flaws In The Investigation?

The aftermath of the crash near Japan was only the beginning. the pain and suffering of families-- not knowing the exact cause of the crash and why their loved ones would not be returning home to them. During this time of global uncertainty, this must have been especially unsettling. A further review found that the Marine Corps personnel conducting the first investigation was not impartial, thorough, or accurate, according to Lt. General Robert Hedelund, the Marine Corps' longest-serving aviator, according to Military.com.

The implications are clear and deep:

"Because of this, we lost trust with the American people, the families of those who perished, and the young men and women who fly our aircraft," Hedelund wrote.

A further review was conducted on the orders of Assistant Commandant General Gary Thomas in 2019. Now, several senior officers are facing disciplinary action due to the crash and the investigation.

"Two senior officers -- a two-star general and a colonel -- have now received formal reprimands amid the renewed examination of shortfalls leading up to the crash. And an aviation safety officer who was incorrectly blamed after the first investigation has now been cleared of any wrongdoing."

A Need For A More Clear Review Process.

My time in the Corps was not that of senior brass. However, I understand the importance of the chain of command and morale among those in uniform. We have to be sure in how these incidents are reported. For ourselves. For the families. And for the Marine Corps. Imagine the pain and suffering of the families that were kept in the dark for almost two years.

Or that of the aviation safety officer originally blamed due to the first review. This is all unacceptable. Hopefully, it will lead to a more comprehensive approach. And the use of outside eyes that can see the situation clearly. Furthermore, the call for-- and conducting of the second investigation-- will also be a valuable precedent for looking into future such events. Hopefully, this review will save future lives rather than go around as a matter of pushing papers.

Take, for example, the initial investigation that blamed the Hornet pilot, Capt. Jahmar Resilard, who perished in the incident. He did not deserve to be run through the mud and called a pilot unable to fulfill his duty. Fortunately, now the review has cleared his name:

"He was absolutely qualified to go do that mission," one of the aviation experts said. "To go fly at night, you have to have flown in the day in the last 14 days -- he did. To go tanking at night, you have to be proficient during the day -- he was. He needed to be [night vision goggles] qualified, he was. And he needed to have an instructor in the flight that could instruct him -- he had that. "He had all the wickets met."

It's not the first Asian controversy involving U.S.Marines. The tragic crash and its aftermath will be a key turning point in the future of the Corps-- and one that will hopefully only lead to improvements at every level. And lives saved.

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