"If he was such a good swimmer, how did he drown during a training exercise with the Marines?" That is what I asked myself when I was first assigned the story of Staff Sgt. Andrew Gonzales...and I am still asking myself that question.
Gonzales was a strong swimmer. His wife called him a "fish." All he ever wanted was to be a Marine Drill Instructor. After accomplishing that goal, he was handpicked because of his water survival skills to train to become a Marine Combat Water Survival Instructor. But just six days into training, he died. How did it happen?
According to the Marines' preliminary investigation, Gonzales was in an exercise where instructors grab students to simulate being grabbed by a distressed swimmer. Three times, Gonzales failed to escape his instructor's hold. According to the report, witnesses heard Sgt. Gonzales yelling "let me go" several times that morning.
Shortly before his final breath, Gonzales was "breathing rapidly" and "visibly uncomfortable," according to witnesses.
So why did Staff Sgt. Gonzales have to die? How tough is too tough when it comes to training?
It's the Marines' policy not to allow a rest in between rescue exercises like Gonzales was performing. It's also their policy not to let the student go until he's successfully performed the exercise. Gonzales died after his third attempt. Four marines are now charged with dereliction of duty and two of them face more serious charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide. They have not entered a plea yet.
One former marine we spoke with for our story, which airs tonight, says the training has to be tough in order to turn out tough marines. "This isn't the boy scouts," he said. Sgt. Gonzales refused to get in the swim tank the morning he died, but he was told to "get in the pool or be dropped from the course," according to the investigation. An hour later he was dead.
Do you think the Marines should reconsider how tough they are on their recruits and others in training? Where do you draw the line?