Local Military News

White-House prompted USMC ‘red dot’ inquiry centered on drill instructor team

A flag-draped coffin holds the body of former Marine recruit Raheel Siddiqui at his funeral on March 25, 2016, in Detroit. Siddiqui, a Taylor, Mich., native, died March 18 during recruit training on Parris Island. His death is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
A flag-draped coffin holds the body of former Marine recruit Raheel Siddiqui at his funeral on March 25, 2016, in Detroit. Siddiqui, a Taylor, Mich., native, died March 18 during recruit training on Parris Island. His death is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Submitted

A Marine Corps “red dot” investigation in the aftermath of recruit Raheel Siddiqui’s death focused on one specific drill instructor team at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

That team would have consisted of four to five drill instructors, according to a Marine Corps official speaking on background Friday.

An anonymous letter to the White House dated April 27 prompted the Corps’ investigation, which began May 2, the official said. That letter alleged recruit abuse and mistreatment in a specific platoon of Company K, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

Siddiqui belonged to that company and battalion, but he was in a different platoon, the official said. The abuse and mistreatment alleged in the letter did not pertain to him.

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Siddiqui died March 18. The Taylor, Mich., native fell nearly 40 feet at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

The “red dot” inquiry was one of three recent command investigations at the depot, the initial results of which the Corps released Thursday.

Collectively, those investigations revealed a culture of hazing and recruit abuse within 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

The Corps has taken corrective actions based on the findings, and some of those changes are already being discussed on Parris Island, according to the Corps.

“Red dot”

On Friday, a Corps official said the White-House-initiated investigation was a “validation” of the wrongdoing unearthed by the other two investigations — one dating back to 2015 and concerning multiple drill instructors accused of misconduct, the other that directly examined Siddiqui’s death.

Specifically, the “red dot” inquiry “reinforced” the findings surrounding the “permissive atmosphere for hazing and abuse” that developed under Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon’s leadership of 3rd Battalion.

Kisson was relieved of command March 31, though the Corps said the decision was made March 17 — the day before Siddiqui died. Kissoon’s relief was not related to Siddiqui’s death, a Corps official speaking on background said Thursday.

The drill instructor team was found to have fostered an environment that led to “unauthorized incentive training,” the official said.

Drill instructors were found to have hazed recruits, and to have encouraged recruits to haze each other.

Changes to recruit training?

Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island met with a small group of officers in a Series Commander Course on Sept. 7, 2016. In a question and answer period of the discussion, an officer asked the Br

 

In response to the findings of the investigations, one of the corrective actions the Corps has made is to have “increased officer presence and supervision of training.”

When asked what that meant Thursday, a Corps official said the numbers of officers could increase and their presence at events — that officers might not have attended in the past — could also increase.

The Corps official also referenced “assistant series commanders,” who would be tasked with helping series commanders — those officers responsible for overseeing drill instructors and training at the company level — with their duties.

During a discussion with a group of series commanders Wednesday, depot commander Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth was asked how the presence of assistant series commanders would affect relationships between series commanders and drill instructors.

Renforth said the assistant-series-commander role was an opportunity for officers to better learn and execute their duties.

During the same discussion, Renforth was asked if “an investigation like this” would mean major revisions to recruit training processes and procedures.

“Major revisions, no,” he said. “But I do expect revisions.”

Renforth explained that practices on Parris Island and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego should complement each other — “we’re mirroring them up,” he said.

“So, really, what we want to see is the product coming out of San Diego should be no different than the product here,” he said. “How we do business in San Diego should be exactly the same as how we do business in Parris Island.”

Renforth said the mirroring process was “long overdue” and said he’d seen “a first cut” of revised materials. The gist of those revisions involved clarification, “getting rid of ambiguous words.”

Such as “approximately.”

Instead of instructing someone to hike approximately three and a half miles per hour, you just instruct them to hike three and a half miles per hour.

“But we’re not changing how we make Marines,” he said. “We’re not changing that.”

A family wants answers

The Siddiqui family was informed of the findings of the command investigations Thursday morning, according to an email sent to the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette from the Shiraz Law Firm.

“At this time we acknowledge the efforts of the United States Marine Corps,” the firm said in a statement released Thursday night. “However, there are too many questions that remain unanswered. We will work with NCIS as they move forward with their investigation.”

While the Marine Corps’ investigation into recruit Siddiqui’s death — which the Corps ruled a suicide — has been conducted, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation is still open.

“All we can say at this point is that the investigation is ongoing,” NCIS spokesperson Ed Buice said in an email to the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette on Thursday afternoon.

The investigation into Siddiqui’s death found drill instructors under the influence of alcohol while on duty; a “lack of clarity” in the process and procedures for reporting recruit abuse; and inconsistencies in how a recruit’s suicidal ideations were addressed.

That investigation did not find “gaps” in the policies and procedures related to reporting and addressing suicidal ideations, a Corps official said Thursday, but it did find that leadership failed to follow them.

Of the three investigations linked to Siddiqui’s death, the first began in 2015 and involved multiples drill instructors accused of misconduct — including “racially motivated hazing,” a Marine Corps official speaking on background said Thursday. That investigation was linked to Siddiqui’s death because one of the drill instructors under scrutiny was improperly assigned to Siddiqui’s training battalion.

A Marine Corps official could not confirm or deny if that instructor was previously alleged to have engaged in racially motivated hazing.

“We believe the facts surrounding Raheel’s death speak directly to this issue,” the firm said in an email to the newspapers when asked if the Siddiquis and their attorney believed the recruit was subjected to racially-, ethnically- or religiously-motivated hazing.

“However, we must understand this is not a Muslim issue, it’s an American issue. To those that say otherwise, I ask you, what if this patriotic young man was your son or your brother?”

“We are still waiting on the enclosures to the results of this command investigation to decide how we plan to proceed,” the firm said in the email. “However, we believe that there is a lack of material evidence needed to support ‘suicide’ as the most probable cause of death in this case.”

The Siddiquis were previously represented by attorney Nabih Ayad. The newspapers were notified by the Shiraz Law Firm in late July that the family had retained Khan to represent them. Khan confirmed this on a mid-August phone call.

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston

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