Sailor killed during Marine training was part of special operations


Andrew Dyer

The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego-based explosive ordinance disposal and dive officer died Sunday during training at a Hawaii Marine Corps base, the Navy said Wednesday.

Lt. j.g. Aaron Fowler became unresponsive during training and was pronounced dead at a hospital, the Navy said in a statement.

Fowler, 29, was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 1 at Naval Base Point Loma.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to Aaron’s family and friends, and we join them in remembering and mourning this brave warrior,” said Rear Adm. Joseph Diguardo Jr., the commander of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, in a statement. “His decision to join this elite special operations community was a testament to the dedicated and selfless character he embodied and his legacy will endure in our ranks through those he inspired by his service.”

No details about the training Fowler was engaged in when he became unresponsive were immediately available Wednesday. However, he was in the third phase of the Marine Corps’ Reconnaissance Leaders Course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, according to Lt. Cmdr. David Carter, a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command spokesperson.

A Marine spokesperson sent the following statement to the Union-Tribune in response to a request for more information about Fowler’s death during training:

“The Marine Corps offers its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Aaron Fowler, who died while participating in the final phase of the Marine Corps Reconnaissance Leaders Course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kanehoe Bay,” said 1st Lt. Phillip Parker. “Investigations into the circumstances and cause of death are currently under way.”

The Reconnaissance Leaders Course lasts eight weeks and teaches planning, briefing and leading teams in patrolling, ground reconnaissance and amphibious operations, Parker said. During the course, trainees spend time at Camp Pendleton and the Yuma, Arizona, Marine Corps Air Station before completing the final three weeks of training in Hawaii, according to the Marine Corps’ website.

In Hawaii, trainees learn clandestine amphibious and jungle operations. Parker did not immediately respond to the Union-Tribune’s follow-up questions about which training evolution was underway Sunday.

Fowler was originally from Oklahoma and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2018, according to his Navy service biography. He attended graduate school at Georgetown University before entering the Navy’s dive and EOD schools in 2020. He reported to his San Diego unit in November.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating Fowler’s death, the Navy said.

Fowler’s death marks the second of a San Diego-based Navy special operations trainee this year. In February, Seaman Kyle Mullen, 24, died immediately after completing Navy SEAL training’s notorious “Hell Week” at Naval Base Coronado. While EOD sailors routinely deploy with and assist SEALs conducting special operations, training is administratively handled by separate command structures, said Lt. Cmdr. Kara Handley, a Naval Special Warfare spokesperson in Coronado.

Mullen’s death is still under investigation, Handley said.

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