Major relieved of command after death of a Union Co. Marine

by: Paige Hansen Updated:

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UNION COUNTY, N.C. —

A Marine Corps major was relieved of his command following the death of a young Union County Marine.  Pfc. Joshua Islam died in January during a water training exercise at Camp Pendleton.  

In an email to Eyewitness News, a Marine Corps spokesman said Maj. Adam Burch was relieved "for a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead Marines after it was determined that Major Burch allowed a number of unsafe conditions to exist, that collectively, were contributing factors in the drowning death of Pfc. Islam."

On Jan. 13, Islam was almost done with his first day of training at Camp Pendleton in California.  In a lengthy Marine Corps report obtained by Channel 9, investigators said Islam died "in the line of duty" by "accidental drowning."

"We called him 'the fish,'" James Islam, Josh Islam's father, said in a phone interview with Eyewitness News Friday.  "He loved water. He loved to swim and he was adept at swimming. Something just didn't add up."

After training all day, the report stated Pfc. Islam got in the water for a supervised swim screening, which ended on a 30-minute water tread.  During the training, witnesses reported seeing his "arms flapping" and said "his head went under water three times in the first 17 minutes."

Pfc. Islam was removed from the water 10 minutes into the tread, but the report said after a few minutes rest, he requested to get back into the pool and was given the okay to return.  The report said, that should not have been allowed. 

The Marine Corps said training deaths are "rare," but because of Pfc. Islam's death, changes have been made, including a one-week period for marines attending the course to acclimate and be pre-screened before beginning this intense marine training.

"Josh's death certainly is not going to be in vain," his father said. "It is going to serve as a constant reminder to us of the brevity of life, the preciousness of each day."

James Islam called his son's death a "regrettable accident" and said his faith and six other children have kept him strong.  

A Marine Corps spokesman told Channel 9 more reliefs are possible as this investigation continues and decisions on any potential legal actions because of Pfc. Islam's death are still pending.

Islam's family set up a foundation in their son's honor.  Click here for the Joshua19Foundation.

Past Coverage: Marine from Weddington dies in pool during training exercise