A 19-year-old Campbell County High School graduate is one of 15 Marines who were hospitalized Wednesday when an amphibious vehicle caught fire during a training exercise at a Southern California military base.
Tagen Schmidt is one of three Marines listed in critical condition at the Burn Center at the University of California San Diego Health, his mother, Tamby Clawson, said Thursday morning. He has third-degree burns to his hands, face and head.
She spoke by phone to the News Record while waiting for a plane in Denver to travel to San Diego to be with her son.
Five other Marines are in serious condition, the Marine Corps said in a prepared statement. Four others were rushed to the University of California Irvine Medical Center in Orange County, including two in critical condition there. Another Marine was in stable condition at another San Diego hospital, while two others were treated for minor injuries at Camp Pendleton.
“We were notified by one of his sergeants,” Clawson said. “Now, we’re in Denver ready to get on a plane.”
She said the family has been informed of her son’s medical condition, and that they received a letter detailing the accident, but that “everything’s been a whirlwind so far” and it’s difficult to remember the details of what they were told about the accident.
“There was an explosion with a gas line, but I don’t have all the details with me,” she said.
A lifelong goal
For Tagen Schmidt, serving his country in the Marine Corps wasn’t a last-resort option out of high school. It was the culmination of a lifelong ambition, his mother said.
He wanted to be a Marine “since he was about 2,” Clawson said. “He wanted to grow up to be like his papa, his grandpa (Chuck Remmick of Gillette).”
His sister, Ashley Trujillo, now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and serves in the Army National Guard.
Getting a phone call like she did Wednesday is something every military mother dreads, Clawson said. But it doesn’t tarnish the pride and support she feels for Tagen and his fellow Marines in the accident.
“We’re just all proud of him and his career choice, and we support his sister who’s in the Army National Guard as well,” she said. “You still have to support them, and wholeheartedly we do. As parents, when our children enlist into the services, we know that’s a risk, but we’re still very proud of him.”
The Marines from the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion were conducting a combat readiness evaluation as part of their battalion training at about 9:30 a.m. on a beach at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, north of San Diego, when the amphibious vehicle ignited, Marine 1st Lt. Paul Gainey said.
According to a defense official who was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity, the amphibious vehicle got stuck and then caught fire as the Marines were trying to free it.
The command is investigating the cause of the incident. Gainey said he had no other information to release.
The armored vehicle is used to carry Marines and their equipment from Navy ships onto land. It resembles a tank and travels through water before coming ashore. It has been used in the Marine Corps since the 1970s.
Clawson and the rest of Tagen Schmidt’s family hasn’t been able to talk to him since the accident because he’s being kept in a medically induced coma for the next 24-48 hours, she said.
Clawson also said that while worried for his potentially severe injuries, he is still alive.
“We haven’t faced that (dreaded) phone call yet, and we hope that we don’t and that he can recover,” she said. “We do know for sure he’ll be in the hospital for a few weeks in the burn unit, and beyond.”
Along with his mother and sister, Tagen Schmidt has strong family support from Gillette, she said. That includes his stepfather, Rick Clawson, father and stepmother Chad and Annette Schmidt, and two more sisters, Mckenzie Schmidt, 21, and 7-year-old Hillcrest Elementary School student Rylei Clawson.
For now, Clawson said the family has one-way tickets to California to be with her son “because we don’t know how long” he’ll need hospitalization.