All four training battalions at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island have been investigated for hazing during the past three years, according to documents obtained through an open-records request by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
Since Jan. 1, 2014, there have been 24 hazing investigations at the depot, half of which were substantiated, according to depot officials, though they didn’t identify them.
The newspapers have, so far, been provided with heavily redacted copies of 15 inquiries totaling more than 1,000 pages. They detail allegations of drill instructor-to-recruit misconduct ranging from name-calling to serious physical assaults.
One found “a staggering level of misconduct and recruit abuse” and recommended three Marines for courts-martial — one at the highest level — after trainees reported they’d been choked, hit in the face, kicked in the stomach and had their heads slammed into walls, among other things, by their drill instructors in February 2015.
That investigation — and four other cases recently obtained — centered on the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, the same unit that’s been scrutinized for allegedly hazing and abusing recruits since the high-profile death of trainee Raheel Siddiqui in March 2016. He died after a three-story fall shortly after being reportedly disciplined by a drill instructor. He was reportedly called a “terrorist” at one point. Several Marines face courts-martial in the wake of the ensuing scandal, and others have been disciplined, the Corps says.
But the newly obtained documents — which the Corps says are not part of previously released investigations stemming from Siddiqui’s death — show hazing is a depot-wide issue, though one Parris Island official says it is not widespread. The inquiries raise questions about officers’ supervision of drill instructors and recruits’ comfort with reporting alleged misconduct.
Former trainees Rebekah Kind and Thomas “Jake” Weaver recently told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette they were afraid to report the behavior they saw during their time at the depot. Both have since left the Corps and struggle to grasp the purpose of their experience.
Former training battalion commander Kate Germano told the newspapers that the depot’s leadership climate was permissive to hazing. She compared some of the behavior she saw to the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.
“Hazing was a problem. (Profanity) was a problem. Cruelty was a problem. Not following the rules was a problem,” said Germano, a controversial commander who led the women’s 4th Recruit Training Battalion for a year until June 2015. “And it all stems from a lack of supervision and leadership.”
Germano said hazing detracted from recruits’ ability to learn the skills they needed. And she worries that hazing is contagious, able to infect recruits who might someday come back to Parris Island as drill instructors.
A 2015 Rand Corp. analysis of hazing in the military recommended the armed forces train leaders to identify and respond to hazing, swiftly punish it and ensure anti-hazing policies are clearly communicated.
The names of the accused Parris Island drill instructors, the recruits who allegedly were abused and interviewed witnesses were blacked out in the 15 investigative files provided to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette since January, including three on Friday, under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The newspapers asked Parris Island officials twice over the last week whether any drill instructors were disciplined in the 12 substantiated cases. No response was received by publication.
“First and foremost, the assumption of widespread hazing would be inaccurate,” depot spokesman Capt. Greg Carroll wrote in an earlier email. He cited the 24 investigations in relation to the “approximately 60,000 recruits” who began training at Parris Island during the past three years.
The depot, he said, has taken steps to ensure training is properly conducted. They include the addition of assistant series commanders to provide more supervision of drill instructors and recruits, and increased observation periods for both soon-to-be series commanders and student drill instructors.
Marines are also regularly evaluated on their knowledge of the “Recruit Training Order,” Carroll said. The “RTO,” as it’s called, reaffirms the Corps’ hazing policy, the most current version of which defines hazing as a “military member” causing another service member to suffer “any activity which is cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful,” whether it be physical or psychological.
The order also says that training activities must illustrate a specific point or accomplish a specific goal and cannot be used solely for the purpose of confusing, disorienting or angering recruits.
“Everything we do has to have intent,” said Maj. Steven Allshouse, director of Parris Island’s Drill Instructor School. “There has to be a purpose for every action, and I tell (students they) can’t use this (justification): ‘To make a better combat Marine.’ I tell them that is the wrong answer. The intent has to be to teach them a skill they need.”
Using “the wrong answer” to rationalize an action “gives us freedom to potentially justify ... anything and everything under the sun,” Allshouse said.
When then-Lt. Col. Germano took command of Parris Island’s 4th Recruit Training Battalion — the depot’s sole women’s training unit — in the summer of 2014, two of her drill instructors were being investigated for hazing, she said.
“A lot of the actions (the drill instructors) took were indicative of cruelty,” Germano said of that investigation, which was not part of the documents The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette have received.
Germano continued, “I had read the investigations from Abu Ghraib” — the prison in Iraq where detainees were abused by U.S. service members during the second Iraq War — “and I noted that a lot of the actions that were taken by the guards (there) were similar to the actions of the drill instructors (under investigation then at Parris Island).”
That included, according to Germano: Denying recruits bathroom breaks. Forcing them to exercise till they wet themselves. Pinching and slapping them, yet doing so without leaving visible marks. Making them “duck-walk” — move in a squat-like position but ensuring their knees don’t touch the floor — for prolonged periods, sometimes to the point of injury.
“Ugly behavior,” Germano described it, actions she said run counter to the Corps’ hazing policy.
Allegations of similar behavior are detailed in some of the 15 redacted investigative files recently obtained by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. Of those investigations:
Three centered on 4th Battalion:
▪ One investigation tells of a drill instructor who ordered 49 recruits to put white masking tape over their mouths for talking too much during “free time.” An officer doing rounds in the barracks discovered the incident and reported it.
▪ The same inquiry found multiple recruits who said they were denied the opportunity to use the bathroom for extended periods of time.
Five centered on 3rd Battalion:
▪ Investigations of this unit documented the most physical forms of alleged misconduct. Recruits reported they were punched, choked, kicked and slammed into hard surfaces by drill instructors for various reasons. One recruit alleged he was taken into a storage closet, where he was slapped, punched in the face, thrown to the ground, punched in the ribs and stomped on his face “multiple times.” Another recruit reported he was “head-butted.” A separate, more lengthy investigative file listed 36 unnamed drill instructors and assault and obstruction allegations, including claims of slapping, punching and kicking recruits.
▪ One recruit said a drill instructor vomited on him.
▪ Two recruits alleged a Marine tried to bribe them with “extra cookies and peanut butter from the chow hall” after he made a “forceful correction” to a recruit not holding his rifle properly.
Four centered on 2nd Battalion:
▪ In one investigation, a recruit claimed a drill instructor performed a timed countdown while he was urinating, then pushed him to the floor when he didn’t finish fast enough.
Three centered on 1st Battalion:
▪ One investigation yielded five unsubstantiated claims of recruit abuse but did find that a platoon of recruits was being made to “duck-walk” while cleaning the squad bay. “Duck-walking” is a violation of the RTO, the investigator noted.
▪ The investigator also noted a drill instructor conducted “incentive training” — punitive physical fitness exercises — beyond the scope of the RTO. He was recommended for administrative or disciplinary action “at the discretion of his commanding officer.”
Germano said a main problem she noticed when she was a training commander at Parris Island was officers’ lack of direct oversight of drill instructors — who are not officers — when the instructors were interacting with their platoons.
“Nowhere else (in the Marine Corps) would it be acceptable for officers to go home at 5 p.m. while enlisted Marines tortured recruits in the squad bays,” she said.
Germano led the 4th Battalion for a year until she was relieved of her command in June 2015 after a command climate survey and ensuing investigation found her to be “unprofessional” and “confrontational,” to have belittled subordinates in public and to have undermined drill instructors in front of recruits. Germano, whose firing received national attention, wrote a letter thanking battalion staff “for the best year any commander could ever have.”
“Despite considerable active and passive resistance throughout all echelons of the Recruit Depot and the Marine Corps,” she wrote, “we each worked incredibly hard to improve the performance of our recruits to make them stronger, faster, smarter, and better shots — all to better the Institution.”
She also filed an equal-opportunity complaint contending she was treated unfairly by the Parris Island leadership, though that investigation found no evidence of gender discrimination or a hostile work environment related to her complaint.
Interviewed recently by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, former 4th Battalion recruit Rebekah Kind said she never reported what went on in her squad bay and elsewhere during her stint at the depot in the summer of 2016.
Kind, 29, a Zion, Ill., native, said she was immediately singled out for her age and her height (she’s 5-foot-10). And when drill instructors found out she had 13 siblings and had been home-schooled, they ribbed her about it.
She said she was called derogatory names and twice questioned about her religion. She and more than 60 fellow Platoon 4037 recruits were once ordered to “cram” into two bathroom stalls, she said. They managed to do so. Then, they were ordered to cram into a single stall, which they failed to do.
And she said she was once denied permission to take medication for pneumonia, a diagnosis noted on a copy of her “Recruit Evaluation Card” she shared with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
Kind said she eventually left Parris Island because of illness and psychological reasons and was discharged from the Corps.
“At the time, if someone asked us if we were being hazed, I would have said no,” she said. “Because at the time, every time the DIs do something to you, they try to explain it away and act like you shouldn’t report it.”
Thomas “Jake” Weaver, formerly with 3rd Battalion, said he didn’t report the abuse he endured until months after he’d completed recruit training in July 2015.
Weaver told several other newspapers in September he’d witnessed several drill instructors — who smelled like they’d been drinking alcohol — barge into his squad bay near the end of his 12-week training cycle. One instructor asked for “the terrorist” — a Muslim recruit — and, according to what that recruit reportedly told Weaver later, put that recruit in a commercial clothes dryer.
Weaver, 21, of Interlachen, Fla., told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette more recently that a drill instructor once slammed Weaver’s head repeatedly into a door.
“The reason was because I was in the DI’s way,” he said.
He said he suffered a breakdown months after graduating recruit training and was discharged from the Corps. He’s still appealing the other-than-honorable discharge status he received, contending his psychological condition stemmed from the treatment he received on Parris Island.
“(Recruits) do not report (hazing),” Weaver said. “They’re too afraid because everyone’s senior DI is a part of the hazing somehow.”
‘Like a mafia’
Germano said “90 percent” of the drill instructors she worked with were good Marines.
“But that (other) 10 percent, they’re evil,” she said. “And they control — it’s like a mafia, is what it’s like.”
Germano said as she further examined the hazing investigation of two drill instructors in her new command in the summer of 2014, she found some disturbing themes.
The instructors’ actions had no purpose beyond either relieving boredom or demonstrating their power, she said. And there was a “one-upping” quality to them, a competition to see who could be the cruelest, she added.
Germano was particularly alarmed by what she described as hazing on the rifle range, behavior she said partly contributed to female recruits’ low first-time qualification rates.
“The problem with hazing is that it is subjective,” she said, explaining that her predecessor had different views on what was allowable, citing “forceful corrections” — hard, physical contact with recruits to fix a mistake — as an example.
“But if you associate training with expected behaviors, and you associate training with expected outcomes, then there should be a statistic to demonstrate that you have trained recruits well,” Germano said.
When harassment on the range stopped — and higher expectations were placed on female Marines as shooters — performance increased, and qualification scores went up, she said.
To prevent hazing, Germano said officers should be making regular, unannounced visits to the squad bays and other training sites.
Allshouse, the director of Parris Island’s Drill Instructor School, said he wants series commanders to practice “engaged leadership” — to be so present in the squad bays and at training exercises that the drill instructors get used to their presence and forget they’re there.
Germano thinks that “there’s more clarity and more engagement by the officers and (non-commissioned officers) on Parris Island than there has ever been, probably since the Ribbon Creek scandal,” in which six recruits drowned in 1956 when a drunken drill instructor led them into a creek during the night.
“But it took a recruit dying to really get the spotlight turned on,” she said, referring to Siddiqui’s death.