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U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Gierke, left, and Pfc. Zachary W. Riffle died in a tactical vehicle rollover Jan. 19, 2022, on a highway near Camp Lejeune, N.C.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Gierke, left, and Pfc. Zachary W. Riffle died in a tactical vehicle rollover Jan. 19, 2022, on a highway near Camp Lejeune, N.C. (U.S. Marine Corps)

The two Marines killed in a tactical vehicle rollover Wednesday on a North Carolina highway had been in the service less than a year, officials said Friday.

Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Gierke, 19, from Lawrenceville, Ga., and Pfc. Zachary W. Riffle, 18, of Kingwood, W.Va., both joined the Marine Corps in March 2021, the service said in a statement.

Both were landing support specialists with Camp Lejeune-based Combat Logistics Battalion 24, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group and were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which happened near the intersection of state Highway 210 and U.S. Highway 17 outside Jacksonville, N.C.

Gierke was a member of Junior ROTC at Collins Hill High School, in Suwanee, Ga., before joining the Marines, and the son of a Navy veteran.

His father posted profile images on Facebook last June celebrating his son’s graduation from boot camp. On Thursday, he changed his profile image to a Marine Corps emblem with a black ribbon over it.

Riffle’s family and friends poured out their grief and shock in several public Facebook posts. Gary Argabrite, who said Riffle was his great-nephew, shared a video of the Marine’s boot camp graduation.

“I was blessed to be a part of his life and I’m so glad that I got to attend his graduation from boot camp,” Argabrite wrote. “There will always be a Zack-size hole missing from my heart. Semper Fi, Marine. Your tour of duty is over.”

A greenhouse in Morgantown, W.Va., called the Plant Cult announced that it would close for part of the week to process Riffle’s death, describing him as a family member.

“To know Zachary Riffle was a pleasure, to love him a privilege,” a post on the business’s Facebook page said. “When he decided to dedicate the next four years of his life to the USMC and serving his country, he understood it carried certain risks. However, neither Zachy (nor) any of us ever considered he’d be gone too soon in (a) 100% preventable incident.”

“We can only now imagine what would have been for him,” the post said.

Seventeen other Marines were injured in the crash, which North Carolina highway patrol officials said occurred when the medium tactical vehicle replacement they were riding in, commonly known as a 7-ton, took a turn too fast and overturned.

Marines were tossed into the roadway from the back of the truck and a trailing military vehicle that couldn’t stop in time hit one of them.

Two Marines were airlifted to a medical center in Wilmington and were listed in critical condition after the crash, but are now in stable condition, the Marine Corps said.

The other 15 were taken to a hospital on the Marine Corps base, where they were initially in stable condition. Only one remains in the hospital there and the Marine is listed in stable condition, the service said.

The incident investigation remains ongoing, said the highway patrol’s Sgt. Marcus Bethea, in an email Friday.

The driver of the vehicle, a 19-year-old from Springfield, Tenn., has been charged with exceeding a safe speed and two counts of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, the highway patrol said Wednesday.

“My sincerest heartfelt condolences are extended to the family, friends, and colleagues of the Marines who lost their lives or were injured in Wednesday’s vehicle mishap,” said Brig. Gen. Forrest C. Poole III, commanding general of the logistics group.

Both Gierke and Riffle completed basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and attended Marine Combat Training at School of Infantry-East at Camp Lejeune before completing the basic landing support specialist training at the same base.

They both were also recipients of the National Defense and Global War on Terrorism service medals, the service said.

All of the injured were active-duty Marines serving with the logistics group, the service said. Those who were discharged from medical care have returned to their units, it said.

“Our commanders, chaplains, and medical providers are diligently supporting our Marines and sailors during this time,” Poole said. “We deeply appreciate all of the thoughtful community messages we have received over the past several days.”

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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