In his 1984 memoir, ‘‘First to Fight,’’ the esteemed Marine brigadier general Victor Krulak, known as Brute, spoke of the ‘‘almost mystical alchemy’’ that happens during boot camp, whose shared hardships he saw as ‘‘the genesis of the enduring sense of brotherhood that characterizes the corps.’’ But the lines between hard training and abuse can blur. Like every other branch of the military, the Marine Corps has official strictures against hazing, which it defines as any unauthorized verbal or physical conduct of a ‘‘cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful’’ nature. The Marines have nonetheless investigated hundreds of hazing allegations in the past five years alone. (The particulars of the hazing incidents in this article were taken largely from redacted reports prepared by the Marines in the course of their investigations. Details like names and dialogue were provided by eyewitnesses and other recruits.) ‘‘There is a natural tension between an organization that trains people for lethality and the larger culture,’’ a Marine reserve officer told me. ‘‘Inside the culture, you’re supposed to be able to take a punch and give a punch and crush a skull. Outside, this is not something that’s valued.’’
The bedrock of Marine tradition is a long-ago era when buff, male and mostly white combat Marines launched amphibious early-morning assaults on enemy beaches armed with M1 rifles and Ka-Bar knives. Today’s far less homogeneous troops roll into battle in armored Humvees or tanks, with sophisticated high-powered weaponry and thermal-imaging goggles. Many never leave their base at all, waging war remotely while operating a joystick or writing code. In many ways, the Marines have become indistinguishable from the Army.
Adapting to these harsh truths hasn’t been easy for the corps, whose current and former officials, with some exceptions, were reluctant to speak openly about these challenges except on condition of anonymity. ‘‘The Marines have a purpose, and it’s a militant purpose,’’ one senior officer says. ‘‘We are an organization grounded on the physical, but wars are not as physical anymore. The character of war has evolved a lot from the early 20th century. The question is: Has our force evolved? I don’t think it has.’’
2) Second excerpt
Across Parris Island, commanders of the different training battalions were contending with hazing allegations ranging from abusive language to assault. In an internal memo from the spring of 2015, the commander of Parris Island’s First Recruit Training Battalion noted that ‘‘staying on top of D.I. hazing/misconduct’’ was his biggest challenge. ‘‘It’s never-ending,’’ he wrote. This was even more pronounced in the Third Recruit Training Battalion, which, as one commander wrote, attracted ‘‘Type-A’’ personalities who may not ‘‘rebound from past mistakes.’’
Isolated in a remote corner of the depot, the Third had long been a rogue fief on Parris Island, its silent pact with Marine officialdom being that it would create the most disciplined recruits but would do so in its own way. It had operated in this manner for more than 60 years, and even in the era of values-based training, the Third was virtually unchanged.
In 1998, a Navy chaplain, Thomas Creely, now retired, came to Parris Island to serve as chaplain for the recruit training regiment and noticed a particularly stark pattern of abuse in the Third. ‘‘For example,’’ he later wrote in a paper presented to the International Society for Military Ethics, ‘‘after lunch recruits were made to drink water until they vomited. Then they were made to do push-ups in their own vomit.’’ Creely worked with the command until 2003 to try to eradicate the problem, but the ‘‘blind loyalty of drill instructors,’’ who remained silent in the face of abuse, stood in the way. ‘‘What you have in the Third Battalion is a cycle of abuse,’’ Creely told me recently. ‘‘And until that cycle is broken, it doesn’t matter how much education you do.’’
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, who commanded the Third Battalion while Germano was on the base, was a by-the-book Marine who publicly took a hard stance against hazing. Shortly after assuming command, he instituted a zero-tolerance policy on the touching of recruits by their D.I.s and put his staff on warning: Any violation of the rules would be investigated. Between 2013 and 2015, 221 preliminary hazing investigations were conducted across the depot’s four battalions; 69 of those were from the Third, and more were punished from that battalion than any other. This included three D.I.s who were recommended for courts-martial after an investigation first reported by Wade Livingston at The Beaufort Gazette in February 2015 revealed a ‘‘staggering level of misconduct and recruit abuse,’’ with recruits reporting that they were choked, kicked and punched in the face, and that they had their heads slammed against walls.
Some junior officers felt the D.I.s were being punished unfairly, though they themselves were never in the squad bays. (One later said his presence in the barracks ‘‘undermines’’ the drill instructors.) When Colonel Kissoon received the results of his own Command Climate Survey in April 2015, they were not much better than Germano’s. That spring, Kissoon began to take a softer line in some cases, according to Marines in the battalion. On his desktop, his subordinates later said, he kept a redacted copy of the command investigation that led to Germano’s firing. ‘‘This could happen to me,’’ he told colleagues.
It was into this environment of ‘‘inconsistent decision making,’’ as some of Kissoon’s officers put it, that a new group of Third Batallion recruits landed in April 2015. Most were straight out of high school. A few had been college students. Two had master’s degrees. Another had been living in his car. All now learned their survival depended on how they handled the cognitive dissonance between what they learned as official Marine Corps policy and how that policy was systematically ignored.
Jake Weaver, then 19, a new member of Platoon 3054, Lima Company, recalls that when he met his D.I.s, they gave him and his fellow recruits a choice. ‘‘You want to be trained like Marines, right? Not like crappy ‘individual’ Marines?’’
On the morning of March 13, less than 24 hours after being picked up by his platoon, Raheel announced to his D.I.s that he’d rather die than continue training. He would jump out the squad-bay window if he had to.
When a recruit threatens suicide, everything stops. At first the D.I.s tried to reason with Raheel: What would his mother think were he to come home without becoming a Marine? ‘‘I’d tell my mother goodbye and kill myself,’’ he said. ‘‘The future does not matter.’’ The Marines took Raheel’s belt and boot laces to prevent him from strangling himself.
Suicide threats are common during the early weeks of boot camp, though how many are serious is unclear. ‘‘Everyone knows saying you’re suicidal is a ticket off Parris Island,’’ Raheel’s platoonmate says. Sickness or broken bones, on the other hand, will get a recruit a long stint in medical, after which they will simply be assigned to another company and start training all over again.
Base officials determined Raheel didn’t qualify for emergency transport to the hospital. Instead, he was ‘‘cross-decked’’: They moved him, still without laces or a belt, to another platoon’s squad bay. Over the next 24 hours, he sat there cross-legged on a mattress in the middle of the room while a ‘‘shadow watch’’ of recruits shined a flashlight on his face and took turns monitoring him around the clock. At some point during this period, Raheel, who had to request permission to leave the mattress to use the bathroom, recanted his suicide threat and said he’d decided he wanted to be a Marine.
The next morning, Felix escorted Raheel to recruit liaison services, an office set up to ascertain if recruits had enlisted fraudulently (such as by failing to disclose a history of suicidal ideation), and to motivate struggling recruits to return to training. Drill instructors who accompany recruits to these sessions usually sit in a waiting area, but Felix ‘‘stood about 10 feet away,’’ according to the report, while Raheel provided what was referred to as a ‘‘voluntary statement’’ retracting his threat. ‘‘This recruit thought it was the only way to quit,’’ he said. ‘‘This recruit never meant that and regrets it.’’ The base’s mental-health unit deemed him to be at a ‘‘low risk for harm,’’ and Raheel went back to training.
It would be noted later, in the Marines’ report, that Raheel, shortly after saying he wanted to kill himself, confided to the military police who were going to escort him to the hospital that he ‘‘could not handle’’ being hit by his drill instructors. The allegation was noted and disregarded several times by what appeared to be several officials.
In reviewing the incidents of that week, the Marines made no mention of the four days after Raheel resumed training. His platoonmate, though, recalls them as torture. As one report noted, Platoon 3042’s senior drill instructor ‘‘taught his subordinate drill instructors that in order to be successful at training recruits, they needed to ‘hate recruits.’?’’ They were called ‘‘bitches,’’ ‘‘faggots,’’ ‘‘maggots,’’ ‘‘little bitches,’’ ‘‘pussies’’ and ‘‘retards.’’ A Russian-born recruit was called ‘‘the Russian,’’ or ‘‘the cosmonaut,’’ and was asked if he was a Russian spy. Raheel was called a terrorist. Felix asked on one occasion if he needed his turban.