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Three Marine officers relieved of command in deadly training blast

United States Marine Corps recruits go through aquatic training exercises at Parris Island, South Carolina
United States Marine Corps recruits go through aquatic training exercises at Parris Island, South Carolina

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Three U.S. Marine Corps officers have been relieved of command after an explosion during a training exercise at a Nevada munitions depot in March killed seven fellow Marines, a military spokesman said on Thursday.

The officers will be reassigned to new duties and do not face any allegations of criminal wrongdoing, said First Lieutenant Oliver David, a public affairs officer at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where the men are based.

"This decision comes as the result of some of the preliminary findings from the investigation into the Hawthorne tragedy," David said.

Seven Marines died and eight other service members were injured at the Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada when a 60-millimeter mortar round detonated prematurely in its launching tube during a live-fire training exercise.

The blast, which remains under investigation, was among the deadliest military training accidents on U.S. soil in recent years.

The three officers removed from their duties are Lieutenant Colonel Andrew McNulty, Captain Kelby Breivogel and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Douglas Derring. David did not release their specific roles in the incident.

He said Brigadier General James Lukeman, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, relieved McNulty "as a result of the loss of confidence in him as the commander of the battalion."

"This is a difficult decision for any commanding general to make," David said. "This was the commanding general's decision in the best interest of the battalion and the Marines and sailors."

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Gunna Dickson)