14 September 2016


by Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 14 September 2016

These recruits are entrusted to my care ... DI Pledge opening


Proudly proclaim the Corps' two recruit depots - Parris Island (SC) and San Diego (CA). 

Yes, they do. The depots make basic Marines.

Last evening came a text, with link, from a longtime Marine friend. The link was another article still about the death of Recruit Raheel Siddiqui (March of this year) at Parris Island. 

The Washington Post article recapped the death and addressed some of the findings of recruit hazing and abuse discovered during the investigation. Sickening. 

We exchanged a couple of brief texts. And I thought about it before Taps. 

Early this morning a text from the same Marine: Col. You up?

Sleeping about an hour past my usual 0400 reveille, I poured a cup of coffee, replied with a coffee cup emoticon, and a few minutes later ensued a lengthy phone call. 

Topic: Recruit training.

We are long retired. Infantrymen. And with a three-year tour in the same recruit training battalion at Parris Island that began more 33 years ago. To us, it seems like yesterday. To Marines today, it may as well have been a century ago.

Six or seven years ago, on a visit to Parris Island (and during subsequent visits), we noticed aspects of recruit training that troubled us. Hard learned lessons of past - senseless deaths of recruits and established preventative remedies - had seemingly been forgotten.

To three consecutive commanding generals we tried, pleaded actually, for 15-20 minutes on their precious schedule to offer our observations. None had time. Too busy. Too busy for two retired field grade officers (one with a recognizable name and rich family history of distinguished Marine Corps service) with recruit training experience - that is, time on the street. 

Our aim being not to tell the generals how to command but to offer history we lived at Parris Island and today's observations that did not settle well. 

Between us, we predicted disaster. It was inevitable. And so it's happened. 

Too busy. 

As to the hazing and abuse discovered during the Siddiqui investigation, it did not happen overnight. That is a certainty. 

And though the average person unfamiliar with recruit training will believe the Drill Instructor (DI) to be the bad guy in this quagmire, there is a bigger problem. That is failed leadership. 

Marine Corps troop leading steps are captured in the acronym BAMICS. It is the S - Supervision - that's considered the most important. 

In recruit training it is the officer who supervises. From lieutenant (series level) to general (depot level), it is the officers who oversee and ensure compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for training. 

Our first observation years ago: Where are the supervisors - the lieutenants?

The numbers were half, at best, of the paradigm we lived. And that paradigm was established in 1976 - as a result of hazing and abuse and a senseless recruit death at San Diego and serious injury to a recruit at Parris Island.

And then the obvious question: Who is doing the supervision? 

The answer: DIs. 

Right. DIs are supervising DIs.

Not good. 

In 1956 a DI who had been drinking marched his platoon into a tidal swamp at night drowning six. Ribbon Creek, at Parris Island, is an ugly scar on the Marine Corps. It will not fade. And it shouldn't.

The commandant directed officer supervision.

Resulting from the incidents in 1976 and Congressional hearings, another commandant directed increased officer supervision. More changes, too, in the best interest of recruits, and trainers. 

Less than a handful of years after our tenure at Parris Island the commandant (or a couple of commandants) decided to reduce officer supervision - one less series officer and one less general. 

Not good. 

And so here we are at about the same cycle gap. But stupidly repeating what should not have been repeated. 

A word about the philosophy of training ...

There is no place in any professional organization for hazing and abuse. It is well known these cowardly tactics serve no useful purpose and are, in fact, destructive. They destroy self-esteem and self-confidence and they destroy that thing known as teamwork that's dependent upon cohesion.

It's why in the Senior Drill Instructor's (SDI) Day 1 pickup speech, with DIs standing at parade rest behind, the Senior tells the anxious recruits they will be treated and trained with "firmness, fairness, dignity, and compassion." 

The Senior further tells them they'll not be abused, in any fashion, and if feeling they have been abused, by anyone including the Senior, they are duty-bound to report it. They are told exactly how to go about such reporting. It is simple.  

The SDI also tells the recruits they will make every effort to make them into a Marine and will continue even after some have given up on themselves. Why? Because Marines do not quit. 

Yet there is a point when it becomes clear some recruits are not cut out to be Marines. DIs first recognize it. Officers validate it.

From our days supervising DIs, the DI Pledge and the SDI's pickup speech have not changed. Nor has changed the philosophy of recruit training - to the SOP - follow the letter, comply with the spirit, and if any doubt don't do it. 

So, why the reduction in officer supervision? 

That's a question I cannot answer. And, frankly, don't care to hear it. 

The death of Recruit Siddiqui, ruled a suicide, was senseless. It was preventable. 

Coming from his death are disturbing substantiated allegations of DIs drinking on duty, a recruit being ordered into a clothes dryer and that dryer turned on, and more. 

A source in the know says the worst is yet to come. That I already surmised - from time on the street. 

In a couple months I have a second cousin reporting to Parris Island to begin recruit training. 

In light of what's been in the news recently about Recruit Siddiqui, I'm a little surprised to have not yet heard from that cousin's parents and grandparents asking for my perspective on what's going on at Parris Island and in the Marine Corps. The big question: Will their young man be safe? 

To them I say ...

What happened to Recruit Siddiqui should not have happened. It was senseless. It was preventable. 

Nor should any of the hazing and abuse coming out from the investigation have happened. Senseless. Preventable. 

It is the exception when things go awry. For most DIs are good men and women doing their best at a difficult job. Regrettably, their image, and the Marine Corps, suffers for the bad actors. 

Yes, recruit training is characterized as firm, fair, compassionate, and dignified but that does not mean it is not tough and challenging under the demanding and exacting eyes of DIs.

I have witnessed superb DIs work. They come to mind as I write. Some I had opportunity to again meet and visit with back in July at Parris Island. These Marines and their likes I'll never forget. They, too, have noticed and acknowledged the pitfalls of reduced officer supervision and picked up on other practices troublesome to them. 

Alas, let's not forget what recruits, soon to be Marines, could possibly face. 

Coincidently, just last evening I started 'Killing the Rising Sun' by Bill O'Reilly with Martin Dugard. This morning again reading about Umurbrogol Pocket on Peleliu - the brutal fighting, killing, slaughter, and atrocities chilling. Unimaginable. 

So, yes, tough training. The toughest. But hazing and abuse, as an element of that training, is unwelcome and intolerable. 

The truth is that beginning in recruit training and continuing on for however long service, tough and resilient Marines are built in spite of hazing and abuse not because of it.

As of today, at least a half-dozen times I've written about this topic. 

Why continue? 

Lots of reasons but will cite four: 1) Once a Marine, Always a Marine; 2) Marines do not quit - ever; 3) I care; 4) A general officer taught me that to permanently dent the marshmallow you have to keep poking.

In closing ...

The sitting commandant, General Robert Neller - an infantryman with recruit training experience, is responsible. 

I do not know him, have never met him, nor have any idea what he is going to do (should Congress be so understanding, on this third go around of high visibility abuse, as to not tell him what he's going to do). 

But a few thoughts for the commandant first come to mind: 1) Address the S in BAMCIS; 2) Are the right Marines being assigned to the recruit training regiments?; 3) Look into the apparent culture amongst (some) general officers not making a few minutes of time for retired Marines - there's logical argument that had such happened, today's problems, yet another lasting institutional scar, would not be. 

To the average American wondering what in the hell is going on, I say - There is no excuse for hazing, abuse, and senseless deaths in recruit training. And I am sure not going to offer one. Nor an alibi. Nor anything in extenuation and mitigation. But know that without recruit training there will not be a Marine Corps. And as unstable as today's world is America is going to need a Marine Corps - a Corps of Marines every bit as fierce and unbeatable as the Marines who conquered Umurbrogol Pocket and worse hell holes. 

The commandant during my first year at Parris Island taught me: Keep the faith!

Yes, General, despite the frustrations.  

Maybe this poke deepens the now dented marshmallow. 

Post Script

The author served as a series officer, company executive officer, battalion operations officer, and company commander in 2d Recruit Training Battalion, Parris Island, 1983-1986.


Jim said...

Andy, many, many years ago, the first Gunny I learned to idolize (there were many more to follow, actually three in a row), taught me something as a fledgling new Corporal that stayed with me for the remainder of my career, and even as a DI. I believe his words of wisdom hits at the heart of your great post. He said "Cpl Bathurst, let me tell you a secret of success as a leader. Always inspect what you expect. If you do not inspect it, you have no right to expect it." Generals, Colonels. Majors, Captains, and even Lieutenants, take heed. Thank you Gunny, wherever you are.

A Colonel of Truth said...

Colonel Bathurst, Exactly!

Tom Hickinbotham said...

Andy - spot on. Although it was 30+ years ago, I remember very clearly what a Regimental CO by the name of Col. Myers told me when I joined 2ndRTBn: If I want to know what's going on with recruit training in 2dRTB, I need to be out of my office and observing it. See it, smell it, do it. He said my office was a place to take a shower and change uniforms before going back out to visit another series in training. Somewhere over the past 30 years, that concept seems to have been forgotten and, predictably, yet another senseless recruit death has occurred. If the culture of hazing and verbal/ physical abuse isn't, finally, snuffed out at our Recruit Depots, the Corps may very well find itself forfeiting control of that training. As Pogo once famously said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."