Hazing Probe Sidelined Two Drill Instructors; Both are Back to Work.
The tragic apparent suicide of Raheel Sidiqui, a 20-year-old recruit happened a little over a year ago. This put the spotlight on the potential of hazing at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, which is the most famous and oldest Marine boot camp.
Investigations were carries out and the news was made public last summer. The investigations found drill instructor misconduct in Siddiqui’s case and many others. There was even an episode with another Muslim recruit being stuffed into a dryer during a late-night interrogation.
Last June, Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth took over command of the base, but there was still a cloud of scandal floating over the depot. Renforth immediately started practicing LBWA, which stands for Leadership By Walking Around. He also put new disciplinary policies in place, along with oversight procedures to help create a culture of accountability and trust.
Five drill instructors currently way court-martial proceedings, while one has been acquitted and many others face pending action.
Disciplinary measures are still ongoing, but Renforth did take pleasure in getting two of the 15 sidelined drill instructors back to work. They were free of wrongdoing, according to the prosecuting authorities.
The two drill instructors returned to work in February after spending about seven months performing base tasks unrelated to recruit training as they awaited their fate. It was a disruption to their lives as both were husbands and fathers. Renforth stated the two men works very hard, even during this interruption. They were given jobs outside of drill instructor work and they worked very hard at those jobs, according to Renforth.
Renforth hasn’t made any sweeping changes to the boot camp since taking command. However, he has worked towards more precise guidance and disciplinary practice standards to help give recruits the same experience regardless of where they go to boot camp. An additional service of commander positions have also been installed to help remove words, such as “approximately” from training and get rid of any ambiguity.
Any cases of drill instructor misconduct go directly to Renforth now. He brings leadership from all four recruit training battalions together to consult on cases and punishments, as well. This helps to keep one battalion from giving a slap on the wrist, while another provides a worse punishment for the same act. Consistency is the goal across the depot when it comes to dealing with these violations, according to Renforth.
Since Renforth took over last June, three new hazing instances have been handled at Parris Island. This is a very large decrease compared to the prior years. Two trill sergeants were given administrative counseling, while another was given non-judicial punishment and relieved for cause. These punishment san affect future promotions and their career overall.
The goal for Renforth, in these cases, is to figure out if the drill instructor is coachable or if it’s a character issue. Renforth served as an infantry officer for 30 years and he used to be a member of the Marine Corps rugby team. He looks at himself as the head coach of Parris Island now and plans to ensure discipline is restored.
He wants his drill instructors to know he has their back, but he’s also not afraid to discipline them if they step out of line. Drill instructors have to walk the line between breaking down recruits and actually abusing them, which can be difficult with such a stringent, gritty training process.
Renforth has made it clear, if a drill instructor isn’t coachable, he’s going to let them go. Just as a head coach would likely cut a player they think they cannot coach to become better, Renforth is using similar strategies with drill instructors.
The hazing scandals from last year prompted congressional inquiries and a huge investigation due to the death of a recruit. Renforth needs to make sure drill instructors understand what’s at stake since the treatment of a senior drill instructor allegedly caused the tragic actions of the recruit.
Last Year’s Hazing Incidents
All of the hazing incidents from last year took place in the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, which has been known by insiders as the Thumping Third. Many shocking incidents were revealed with many recruits singled out by drill instructors based on religion or race. Renforth doesn’t believe this is a cultural problem within the depot or the battalion.
The depot has a total of 600 drill instructors and 150 of them are found within the Third Battalion. Each year, 44 different recruit graduations take place and new drill instructors arrive at the depot every few months. Renforth sees this as something needing to be addressed across the entire depot. He doesn’t believe it was systemic and believes it was just a few individuals causing the issues.
Renforth believes if the drill instructors are properly trained and held accountable for their actions, the recruits will be in better hands and properly trained. A difference has been noticed in just a year when it comes to the atmosphere of Parris Island. Many senior enlisted Marines want to come back as first sergeants and gunnery sergeants after serving a tour at the depo earlier in their career.
While two of the drill instructors are back to work, there are many still awaiting their fate. Some may go back to work soon, while others may face punishments for their actions. The Parris Island name still stands for something many are proud of and a few individuals won’t change that.