By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun
10:28 PM EDT, May 8, 2013
The commander of the Navy unit that included two sailors who drowned at Aberdeen Proving Ground in February has been relieved of his duties, the Navy said Wednesday.
The Navy said Cmdr. Michael Runkle, who led the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, was relieved because of a "loss of confidence in his ability to command."
Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 28, of Caldwell, Ohio, and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 23, of Gladstone, Mo., died Feb. 26 during a training exercise at a testing facility at Aberdeen known as the Super Pond. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore said last month that the men drowned. Their deaths were ruled an accident.
Rear Adm. Mike Tillotson, commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, called for a preliminary hearing May 21 to determine whether two senior enlisted leaders will face charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Lt. Nathan C. Potter, a Navy spokesman, said the decision to relieve Runkle of his duties was based in part on the deaths of the divers, but that there were other contributing factors. Runkle will be reassigned elsewhere within the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.
"We're not trying to pinpoint this on any one particular incident," Potter said.
In January, before the deaths of the divers, the Navy ordered a survey of the unit's members and found issues with morale and leadership involvement, the Navy said. After the drownings, a safety review found more problems, the Navy said.
The diving unit is based in Virginia Beach, Va. Potter said it has not been determined whether others will face additional disciplinary actions or charges.
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