ILLUSTRATION BY MATT HUYNH, SPECIAL TO PROPUBLICA
The Marine Corps investigation into the December 2018 tragedy that was released to the public largely blamed the squadron itself, painting the Marines as reckless aviators who flouted safety protocols.
But ProPublica revealed, through internal documents withheld from the public, that the squadron involved in the deadly accident had for months warned senior leaders that it was dangerously undertrained, undermanned and short of functioning aircraft.
The problems in the Marine Corps’ aviation forces mirror those ProPublica found in the Navy’s surface fleet. In 2017, two Navy destroyers were involved in fatal accidents months apart, and the Navy was quick to portray them as largely the result of negligence by sailors on the two ships. ProPublica’s reconstructions of the accidents, however, showed that uniformed and civilian Navy leaders at the highest levels had been alerted for years that the sailors and ships of the 7th Fleet were in crisis: undertrained, overtaxed and starved of the time and parts required to operate the country’s most versatile warships.
An internal Marine Corps memo about ProPublica’s investigation into the crash seemed to indicate that the problems exposed in the article were more widespread.
In the last month, the Marine Corps has announced plans to improve its forces in the Pacific.
Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, distributed a memo encouraging his commanders to identify the “highest quality” Marines “for duty in the Pacific.”
A Marine Corps spokesperson told ProPublica that that assessment “was not based on any internal interviews or formal command assessments” but rather “an assessment of open-source social media comments following the release of the ProPublica article.”