Bayou L’Ourse marine killed

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

One of four Marines killed Wednesday morning at California’s Camp Pendleton during a routine sweep to make a range safer for future training exercises was Gunnery Sgt. Gregory J. Mullins, 31, of Bayou L’Ourse.

Four Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines were killed while clearing unexploded ordnance in an explosion at about 11 a.m. during range maintenance operations to dispose of unexploded ordnance in an impact area aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps news release said.

Mullins was the explosive ordnance disposal staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge assigned to headquarters and headquarters squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton.

Mullins joined the Marine Corps in March 2002, and was promoted to his current rank in February, according to the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton website.

The Assumption Parish native’s awards include two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, Combat Action Ribbon, three Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan. He deployed twice to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 as a team leader, the release also stated.

The area of the incident is used for firing explosive munitions such as grenades, mortars, artillery and rockets and for dropping munitions from aircraft, the news release said. While live-fire training was ongoing at the adjacent impact area, there was no live-fire training being conducted Wednesday in the area where the incident occurred, the release said.

Base officials said they would not release details until an investigation into the cause of the accident is concluded. They released the names of the dead Thursday night.

In addition to Mullins they were Staff Sgt. Mathew R. Marsh, 28, of Long Beach, Calif., Sgt. Miguel Ortiz, 27, of Vista, Calif., and Staff Sgt. Eric W. Summers, 32, of Poplar Bluff, Mo.

One Navy hospital corpsman and two Marines nearby had minor injuries and were released after receiving medical treatment at the scene.

Explosive ordnance disposal technicians generally have already served four years in the Marine Corps and are one of the few positions in which the Marine Corps allows team members to quit at any time. That’s because their mental focus could mean the difference between life or death, either for themselves or their fellow troops.

They undergo vigorous mental and physical screenings. The military scrutinizes their personal lives, checking to make sure they do not have any legal issues or other problems that could affect their job performance, said Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine Corps spokeswoman.

“They really only take the most highly qualified Marine since they will be keeping their fellow Marines safe,” she said. “If at any time there’s an issue, like someone has (post-traumatic stress disorder), or is going through a divorce, they can ask to be removed because obviously safety is huge for this community.”

The Corps currently has 715 explosive ordnance disposal technicians. During the Iraq war, Marines lost 20 bomb technicians, and another 24 have been killed in Afghanistan.

The last fatal accident for a Marine bomb technician in the United States was about two decades ago, when a Marine was killed while doing a range sweep at Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps base in Southern California, according to the Marine Corps.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brian Meyer said he was drawn to what is considered to be one of the Marine Corps’ most dangerous jobs because of the challenge. Bomb technicians work in a team but are often entrusted to make decisions in the field on their own, such as whether it is safe enough to move unexploded ordnance or defuse a roadside bomb.

Meyer was injured while trying to dispose of an IED in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on March 14, 2011. The homemade bomb blew off his right hand, right leg and three fingers on his left hand. He’s lost more than a dozen fellow bomb technicians and knows about 15 others who have suffered injuries, like himself.

“It’s hard to pick out one specific reason why I wanted to do this job,” he said, adding that he would do it all again. “It’s not a job in which you call your supervisor to make a decision. You’re often the expert. You make the calls and work independently. There’s a lot of trust placed in you. You’re part of an elite group.”

Meyer said the job is “exhilarating.” It requires math, problem-solving, and quick thinking. Some use bomb suits to protect themselves, but the suits can also pose more of a risk because they are cumbersome and easy to trip in, Meyer said. And, he added, they cannot protect against being hit by a direct explosion.

It is not known whether the four Marines were in bomb suits or what equipment they were using.

The team usually decides those details depending on the situation, said Meyer, who cleared a range at Pendleton in 2010.

Clearing ranges can be as dangerous as diffusing bombs on the battlefield, Meyer said.

“With unexploded ordnance, you can do everything right and stuff can still go sideways only because it’s all so unpredictable,” he said.

The commanding general of the base said attention will be given to support for the families of the four killed Marines

 “Today, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Marines we lost yesterday. Explosive Ordnance Disposal is a small and tight-knit community, not just in the Marine Corps, but in the entire U.S. military. Our focus now is on ensuring these families receive the help and support they need,” said Brig. Gen. John W. Bullard, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations West - Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

The Marine Corps gave the following information on the other killed men who each were explosive ordnance technicians:

Marsh was assigned to headquarters and headquarters squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton. He joined the Marine Corps in July 2003, and was promoted to his current rank in May 2009. Marsh’s awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, three Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan.

He deployed twice to Iraq in 2005 and 2008 and twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2012 as a team leader.

Ortiz was assigned to headquarters and headquarters squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton. He joined the Marine Corps in March 2006, and was promoted to his current rank in November 2009. Ortiz’s awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, two Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal and NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan.

He deployed to Iraq in 2007, to the Western Pacific in 2008 and to Afghanistan in 2012.

Summers was assigned to the explosive ordnance disposal platoon, Airfield Operations Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 372, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, stationed aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. He joined the Marine Corps in July 2000, and was promoted to his current rank in October 2010. Summers’ awards include three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, three Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan.

He deployed to Kuwait in 2003, Iraq in 2004 and three times to Afghanistan in 2009, 2011 and 2012 as a team leader.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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