COLUMBIA — A military judge sentenced a former drill sergeant at Fort Jackson to 18 months in prison Tuesday, punishing the soldier for an accident that killed two Army recruits in 2017 and severely injured seven others. 

Andrew Marrow, a veteran of Iraq with an otherwise spotless military career, had pleaded guilty in a small courtroom at the military base outside Columbia on Monday.

On Tuesday, he asked the families of the soldiers he killed and injured to forgive him. 

"I am a parent, too, and I have no ability to understand the pain that I have caused you," Marrow said before the judge sentenced him. He added, "I can never replace what you have lost or what I have taken." 

Marrow was immediately taken to the Naval Consolidated Brig near Charleston where he will serve his time. He will lose his rank in the Army and his pay from the military. It will be decided later whether he is discharged.

Diagram shows aftermath of Fort Jackson accident (copy)

A diagram from an investigative report shows the aftermath of the Oct. 6, 2017, accident in which a truck hit Army recruits at Fort Jackson, killing two and injuring others. File/Army/Provided

Marrow had faced a maximum sentence of up to seven and a half years. He was charged for falling asleep behind the wheel of a truck before that vehicle accelerated into a troop formation on the 52,000-acre base. The accident left soldiers tangled beneath the wheels of the truck and their bodies bloodied and broken. 

Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft, 18, from Ohio, and Pvt. Ethan Shrader, 19, from Tennessee, both died as a result. 

Ashcraft's family called the judge's ruling "bittersweet." The sentence provides them with some closure but they were troubled by the agony it brought to Marrow's family. 

"This has caused pain and heartache for every family that is involved," said Christina Vittoz, Ashcraft's aunt, who met with Marrow before the hearing. 

"I know what he said came from the heart," said Amanda Kassen, Ashcraft's mother. "But forgiveness is going to take some time." 

The military prosecutors in the case called on the judge to sentence Marrow to several years in prison for his actions. They argued Marrow, who was operating on four hours of sleep, should have asked another drill sergeant to get behind the wheel after he began to yawn and his head began to nod.  

"Sgt. Marrow was the only one who could have prevented this," said Capt. Samantha Katz, the lead prosecutor in the case.

She told the judge that Marrow's thoughtlessness converted the truck "into an instrument of destruction." 

Marrow's defense attorney, Maj. Erik Henderson, also laid the blame for the accident at the feet of the Army itself. 

Henderson said all of the drill sergeants ran on little sleep. He pointed to the limited number of drill sergeants throughout the base and he emphasized how long Marrow had been asked to work in the lead-up to the accident. 

"Fort Jackson and the Army were playing roulette," Henderson said.

Marrow admitted his actions resulted in the deaths of the soldiers he was responsible for training. But his defense team highlighted Marrow's history as loyal soldier, good friend and devoted father. They reiterated the remorse he feels for the accident. 

The attorneys called on Marrow's friends and family to testify about the remorse he has for what happened. They also brought in his former and current commanders to speak about his military service.

"I know that there was no malice or ill intent in this situation," Maurice Jones, Marrow's cousin, told the judge. 

Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Celestine, one of Marrow's former commanders, told the judge he still believes Marrow could serve a vital role in the military. 

It was unclear Tuesday whether he will be given that chance. 

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.