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Commander Of Navy Dive Unit Removed After Aberdeen Proving Ground Drownings

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(Credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground)

(Credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — The commander of a Virginia-based Navy dive unit has been reassigned after two divers drowned at an Army test pond near Baltimore, the Navy said Wednesday.

Navy spokesman Lt. Nathan Potter said Cmdr. Michael Runkle was removed as commander of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. Runkle has been reassigned to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

Potter said the Navy first learned of morale and leadership concerns in Runkle’s command in January. Unspecified administrative actions were taken to address those problems, he said.

Then on Feb. 26, two members of the unit drowned at an underwater weapons-testing facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. That prompted a command investigation that revealed continued “climate weaknesses,” the Navy said in a news release. The investigation also revealed previously unknown safety issues, which the Navy said were contributing factors in the decision to relieve Runkle of his duties.

Two members of the dive unit face military criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty in the drowning deaths of Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 28, of Caldwell, Ohio, and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 23, of Gladstone, Mo.

The defendants, who have not been identified, face an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury investigation, on May 21 at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. The hearing will determine whether the charges will be referred to a court-martial, dealt with administratively or dismissed.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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