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Source: Four sailors to fight punishment tied to diving deaths

Aug. 14, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Four sailors connected with the drowning deaths of two divers during February training at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., will fight their accusations in courts-martial, sources told Navy Times.
Four sailors connected with the drowning deaths of two divers during February training at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., will fight their accusations in courts-martial, sources told Navy Times. (The Associated Press)
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Four sailors have refused non-judicial punishments stemming from the drowning deaths of two divers during February training at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., a source tells Navy Times. Instead, these members of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 will fight their accusations in courts-martial.

Among those fighting the charges are Senior Chief Navy Diver (MDV) James Burger and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Smith, the two leaders of the Little Creak, Va.-based MDSU detachment, the source confirmed.

Burger and Smith faced an Article 32 hearing inJune in front of Capt. Holiday Hanna, former Force Judge Advocate for Naval Surface Forces Atlantic in Norfolk, Va. They stood accused of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Navy Diver 1st Class (DSW) James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Navy Diver 2nd Class (DSW) Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Mo.

Smith and Burger were in charge of MDSU 2’s Company 2-3 and had taken their divers to Aberdeen’s Superpond as part of pre-deployment training. Though autopsies concluded Reyher and Harris died of accidental drowning, the actual circumstances may never be known.

During the Article 32, it was put into question whether Smith and Burger’s were cleared to order a 150 foot dive, or 20 feet deeper than normally authorized. It was also questioned whether Harris and Reyher should have been using surface-supplied oxygen instead of scuba equipment.

Burger and Smith’s Article 32 was largely publicized in the media, but new details are emerging about other sailors also accused of misconduct tied to the sailor deaths.

Lt. Nathan Potter, spokesman for Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, MDSU 2’s parent command, announced in a press release that a total of five sailors had been administered punishment, all in the time frame of Aug. 6-13. The source, who has knowledge of the case, however, said that only one sailor accepted his punishment and the rest are challenging the accusations. Potter declined to confirm this information, however, citing privacy concerns.

Hanna disciplinary action submitted his recommendations for action to Rear. Adm. Frank Morneau, commander of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. Morneau declined to convene courts-martial, instructing Capt. John Coffey, commander Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, to make punishment decisions, Potter said in a news release.

The sailors’ decision to plead their case to a courts martial isn’t surprising as the lawyers defending Burger and Smith at the Article 32 hearing said at the time that their clients were being made scapegoats and that the deaths of Reyher and Harris was just a horrible accident.

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