The commander of the 1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Eric Smith is apparently cracking down on hazing.

“I’m not here to inflict group punishment, but my assessment is that I’ve just been flipped the bird by lots of lance corporals, so I am headed their way to demonstrate this is an unwise [course of action],” said Smith in an email obtained by the Marine Corps Times.  Smith also made it clear that he wanted to personally adjudicate all cases of hazing and separate the offenders from service. In doing so, he may have demonstrated unlawful command influence over disciplinary hearings. At least one judge would seem to agree with that and has agreed with one defense team that unlawful command influence was present.

The tone of Smith’s email is telling as well, referring to the offending Marines as lance-corporals, while a good few are corporals. It’s a demeaning mention of rank in regard to an offense that’s supposed to have nothing to do with rank. The idea is that they are just simpletons who know nothing. They haven’t been around long enough to deign to know anything about how the Marine Corps works in the fair general’s mind. That’s ironic, considering that he was never enlisted, and therefore never subject to living in a barracks with senior Marines instilling the job skills by waking up the 0311s at 0311 hours and quizzing them. Nor was he subject to promotion systems that ebb and flow based upon Congress’s idea of how big or small the Marine Corps should be. As a result of that system, especially in combat arms units like 2/7, and 3/7 where these Marines were charged, four-year lance corporals, or terminal lances are often good Marines who just joined at the wrong time.

All that aside, a system already exists in order to handle these situations, as this is not the first time that the Marine Corps has dealt with hazing. So a division commander has no need to reinforce what is already a written standard. A worthwhile question would be are the Marines being investigated even in the realm of hazing?

The allegations 30 some odd Marines have recently been under investigation for include: physical assault, forced consumption of alcohol, forced haircuts, making Marines do fitness for failing work related tasks and blood-striping new NCOs.

All ahead stop. Let’s just make sure we’re all on the same sheet of music here.

Hazing is defined as any conduct whereby a military member or members, regardless of service or rank, without proper authority causes another military member or members, regardless of service or rank, to suffer or be exposed to any activity which is cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful. –MCO 1700.28A

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Now let’s go through the aforementioned examples.
Physical assault seems like an easy one to pick out, until you realize that the units where these incidents were said to occur are combat arms units. That’s not to say that a Marine in combat arms ought to get their ass kicked because that’s part of the job. But pain retains. It’s a noteworthy training tool remember “Oh, when I do this, bad things happen.” It’s not intended to be cruel, abusive, humiliating or otherwise. It literally exists to make you better at not dying. From my time as an urban shooting instructor at Camp Pendleton, I can tell you that when you get shot in the hip with a simulated munition (think paintball but harder) because you didn’t do a technique properly, you will never forget that technique. So take a Marine who falls asleep on post. What happens if a Marine falls asleep on post in a combat zone? Well that Marine might get dragged off by the enemy, beaten half-to death and executed on camera. His entire unit might also get killed in their sleep. So when it happens in training, there’s some training value in getting dragged a bit by three senior Marines speaking in Borat accent, “You screw up big time capitalist-dog! Sneaky you are not!” That’s an experience you won’t forget, and you’ll work to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Forced consumption of alcohol, is something that I have heard of but never seen. I frankly can’t wrap my head around it, because I was trained at a time and place where if a beer had been cracked open, training was over. Anyone claiming to train someone, especially enforce discipline while drinking was already asking for trouble. That said, get two beers in me and it isn’t going take much impetus for me to give my team leader the finger. That said, if a senior Marine held a kid down and forced Jack Daniels down his throat- ok, he’s the too far guy. Get rid of him.

Forced haircuts seems like a no-brainer until you realize that in most Marine units, everyone shows up Monday with a fresh haircut. Period final. No exceptions. So when a new guy shows up with some idiotic excuse, guess what happens? In my unit, I was the barracks barber on Sunday nights. If people procrastinated, I worked on my ability to fade for $5 a pop. I had a chair, an apron, a detail trimmer, and cleaned my clippers with professional grade Clippercide. When they showed up on Monday morning, especially if they waited until formation and made the entire platoon look bad, the chair and apron were not for them. They squatted over a trashcan and their head got shaved because beggars can’t be choosers. Again, no one held these kids down and beat them up while this happened. If that was the case, the too far guy has made another appearance and needs to go.

Making Marines do fitness for failing work-related tasks. Re-read the Marine Corps definition of hazing. Where in there does it say that punishment can’t be push-ups? As a Sgt, screw-ups were followed by push-ups for my Marines. James Powell can vouch for the same. Most Marine leaders would rather PT a Marine to make a point rather than write up bad paperwork that will likely harm the Marine’s career and have immediate effect. In my time as a radio operator, I was the PFC in the platoon and although the mule that carried the radio, I wasn’t the best at making it work. So what did I do? I cleared and programmed the damned thing about 10-20 times a day and when I didn’t do it right, I found a pole. Finding a pole is when a Marine finds something approximately a foot or two high and does 25 slow, one-count push-ups. If that Marine is attached to a sniper platoon, he does five more at the end counting off “Scout-Sniper,” for each one. This Marine found lots of poles. The snipers were not pleased when the radio went down during missions after that. This Marine then ran to the top of what is known aboard Camp Pendleton as 1StSgt’s Hill to where the tree of life is (see featured image). A fast run up it and back to the hootch takes just shy of 30 minutes. The snipers would be watching with spotting scopes to make sure that no integrity violators took a short cut. Their point was made. One of them didn’t think so.

He took this Marine and two other Marines out for about two hours and had them shout demeaning things about each other while rubbing dirt into their own faces, running sprints, skull dragging and repeatedly buddy carrying each other up a hill. He was the too far guy. He was fired. Five minutes in, when it was just push-ups and other calisthenics, one of the other Marines literally said, “Fuck you, I’m not doing this. You can go fuck yourself.” He was not fired. He was not punished in any way. He was congratulated for being independent thinker and doing what was right in the face of a senior Marine who made things personal and took no ownership for his role in the failed mission. Guess what happened to this Marine? He got fired for fucking up the radio.

For the record I hold nothing against the Marine who opted out. He did the right thing and I wish I would have. The lieutenant who saw it start in his presence for about 15 minutes, saw us leave, saw us return, did nothing and then fired a junior Marine who suffered through that idiocy… fuck him all day long.

Last but not least is blood-striping. You see, when Marines pick up the rank of corporal, they get these fun little red stripes on the seams of their dress blue trousers. They are purely aesthetic. Lore tells us that it’s because of the Battle of Chapultepec. It’s not true. But like Fred Rodgers and his Scout-Sniper/Navy SEAL background it’s a story that won’t die, so it must be acknowledged here. Regardless, picking up corporal is a big deal. So naturally senior NCOs throw dead legs, charlie horses, or whatever else you call a knee to the quad, which results in a red bruise, or a blood-stripe. Those that get it early, often do so with a meritorious promotion. One such Marine was my roommate J. He was an all-star golden boy, passing through the Scout Sniper Basic Course in 2007 on his first try when it still had the team leader course as part of the curriculum. It was a huge accomplishment. So J goes on his first deployment as a lance-corporal and Scout Sniper, does a solid job and gets himself a meritorious promotion to corporal when he returns.

The element of the sniper platoon that sat back and saw my group get hazed and said nothing, let’s say they were a little more than ok with it. When J picked up corporal, they threw knees into his quads so much that he couldn’t hardly walk the next day. The day after that, he picked up his 95lb ruck to head out for a mission and tore his quad. He was on crutches for a month. That may not seem like the end of the world, but you have to realize that there were guys in that platoon who had attempted sniper school more than once and failed. J was one of five school-trained snipers in the battalion and having him out of commission meant having an entire team that wouldn’t be able to operate if called upon. It was also during the schools training phase of the workup, so J missed out on qualifications that would have benefited himself and the platoon as a whole. The too far guys had showed up again. Our own James Powell suffered a similar fate when he picked up corporal, but he had the option to forgo the blood striping. He did not, and reports that his senior Marines all came to check on him the next two days that he was out of commission.

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When it came my turn to pick up corporal, I was a bit luckier. I was in a small instructor cadre, maybe seven of us. It’s worthy of note, that this group wasn’t exceptionally big or strong for Marines. So when a couple of them who maybe had a sweet spot for me started talking about how they were going to have me unable to walk the weekend after I picked up rank, I told them very plainly: “You can do whatever you like, but I’m bigger than most of you and if I don’t get you back on the spot, I have a long memory.” By fate or by foresight, the day that I was promoted there were only two Marines in my cadre around. The rest had been called out for something else, maybe the lead instructor looking out for me.

One of the two Marines had a heart murmur and was recovering from open-heart surgery. He threw two weak knees before I said, “I don’t care if you’re crippled, I will hit you back. Remember that time that I made your heart skip?” He stopped, as I had previously played loose and fast with his recovering cardiac situation. The other was a friend, Alex. He asked me if I had gotten the gear list for the range we were conducting the following week. I told him that I hadn’t and pulled out my notepad and pen, like the good boot that I was. As he had me start copying down an imaginary gear list, he got a running start and threw a knee to my right quad and knocked me to the ground. He then sprinted out the door. I scrambled to get up and make good on my word but my quad locked up and I was limping rather than running when I made it outside our office to see Alex tearing off in his Jeep, leaving me cursing in the dust. Again, I was lucky.

So what should someone take from this? Hazing is a thing that happens when you have new guys. It will unfortunately continue to happen, because they have to earn their place, at least that’s what the previous crop of new guys thinks. It’s especially an issue in the Marine Corps because the Marine Corps takes its job very seriously, and with that comes intensive training. With intensive training comes corrective actions, death runs, mass punishment, 25 mile humps with a full pack, and pull-ups until arms are so full of blood that they are stuck at a 60 degree angle. Are any of those things hazing alone? No. If it has training value, there’s an argument to be made that it’s not hazing. But beware the too far guy.