March 26, 2012
By Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers
Lance Cpl. Harry Lew kept falling asleep on his post in Afghanistan. As punishment, two other lance corporals in his unit made Lew do push-ups, leg lifts and side planks. They poured sand in his face and mouth, kicked him and punched him for several hours. Shortly after this degrading and humiliating experience, Lew shot himself in the head.
While most instances of hazing are not this severe or end with such devastating results, even the act of slapping chevrons into the collarbone after promotion and the punching of a newly-promoted noncommissioned officer’s legs to symbolize the blood stripe can cause emotional, physical and psychological damage to a Marine. Furthermore, these acts are in direct opposition to the values and ethics upheld by the Marine Corps. Renewed effort is being taken to eradicate hazing in the Corps.
“Hazing is a crime that is inconsistent with our core values and organizational purpose of making Marines, winning our nation’s battles and returning quality citizens upon completion of their service,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett in a recent testimony about hazing before the House Armed Service Subcommittee on Military Personnel March 22.
Barrett even went so far as to compare hazing to having insurgents inside the wire.
In the past, hazing was sometimes viewed as a rite of passage, a way to build camaraderie or as punishment for poor behavior. While the most common forms are initiation and congratulatory acts, hazing is any conduct where a Marine, regardless of rank, causes another Marine to suffer or be exposed to any activity that is cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful. However, the reality is there is no justified reason for hazing and the Marine Corps is working to ensure hazing ends now.
In many cases, hazing comes as a result of the youthfulness of Marines in the Corps. The Marine Corps has the ‘youngest’ force of any branch, with 63 percent of Marines 25 years old or younger. This often results in immature and irresponsible decisions. Barrett said one of the best ways to combat hazing is through leadership.
“The commandant of the Marine Corps has charged all leaders, from the fire team level to commanding general, to ensure that all Marines are treated with dignity, care and respect,” Barrett said. “We further charge leaders who are closest to the day-to-day actions of Marines to be ever-vigilant for signs and instances of hazing and to intervene, report and address them immediately when they occur.”
Additionally, the Corps will record all instances of hazing that occur in the future and the list will be sent to the commandant of the Marine Corps for review. This will ensure that proper disciplinary steps are taken in every instance of hazing.
Through engaged leadership and continued training in values, as well as a renewed commitment to justice in hazing cases, instances of hazing can be greatly reduced in the Corps.
“As an institution of more than 202,000 personnel, the Marine Corps is not perfect – no institution is,” Barrett said. “Yet we rely on our 236-year legacy of honor, courage and commitment to help us address problems like hazing when they arise.”