- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Pentagon has suspended the use of all 60 mm mortars after seven Marines were killed late Monday in an explosion during a training exercise in western Nevada.

An ammunition round exploded in the tube of a 60 mm mortar during a live-fire exercise shortly before 10 p.m. PDT Monday at the Hawthorne Army Depot. Six men remain hospitalized with injuries.

“A blanket suspension of 60 mm mortars and associated tubes is now in effect until [a] review is complete,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The Marines were from the 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Their names were not released, pending notification of their families.

Seven injured Marines and one sailor were taken to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev. One of them died, four were in serious condition, two were in fair condition and one was discharged, hospital spokesman Mark Earnest said.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation. Officials believe it happened while the Marines were loading a 60 mm mortar, which resembles a small cannon and requires three or four troops to operate. During training, it is customary for other troops to be nearby to observe, officials said.

The Pentagon expanded a temporary ban to prohibit the military from firing any 60 mm mortar rounds and suspended use of all high-explosive and illumination mortar rounds that were in the same manufacturing lots as ones fired in Nevada.

Hawthorne Army Depot, the 147,000-acre facility where the incident occurred, is the military’s largest ammunition depot and a training center used by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps because of its resemblance to Afghanistan’s terrain.

The incident happened during training typically conducted before troops deploy to Afghanistan, officials said.

“We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident,” Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, said Tuesday.

State officials also issued statements of condolence.

“It was with great sorrow that I heard of the loss of life at the Hawthorne Army Depot explosion last night,” said Rep. Dina Titus, Nevada Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said: “My thoughts are with those who were injured. My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives. And my sympathies are with their fellow Marines, who are also grieving this loss.”

Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, said: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones in this explosion, and the entire nation is grateful for the service of those whose lives were lost. I would also like to thank the first responders and medical personnel who are helping the injured, and wish those injured service members a speedy recovery.”

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