Insurgents Inside the Wire

Posted: March 28, 2012 by ShortTimer in Afghanistan, Marine Corps, Military, US Military

From the Marine Corps Blog:

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.

LCpl Flowers’ little editorial note there is incorrect.  The statement “there is no justified reason for hazing”, as well as the definition given, fails on many levels.

Let’s look at that case of LCpl Lew:

Prosecuting attorney Maj. Hanorah Tyer-Witek told the jury in closing arguments that witnesses saw Orozco ordering Lew to do push-ups after Lew had been digging a foxhole for two hours without eating or drinking anything.

Orozco was annoyed and fed up that Lew had fallen asleep on watch for the fourth time since he arrived at Patrol Base Gowragi, she said.

He placed sandbags on Lew’s legs while Lew did leg lifts, Tyer-Witek said. Sand got into Lew’s mouth when Orozco ripped open the sandbag after Lew stopped lifting.

Yeah, Orozco is a clearly a thug.  Oh, what’s this part again?

Lew had fallen asleep on watch for the fourth time since he arrived at Patrol Base Gowragi

So Lew is derelict in his duties to his fellow Marines?  He’s leaving the wire undefended?  He’s the first line of defense and he’s choosing to take a nap instead?  He’s supposed to be watching them while they sleep and rest, and instead he’s nodding off so that actual insurgents, actual terrorists, can actually get inside the actual wire and kill actual Marines?

There’s a difference between hazing and a correction.  There are still “corrections” made in the military that might be called hazing by people who live in a different environment.  This isn’t the kind of hazing and institutional abuse that plagues former Soviet countries, wherein senior enlisted men abuse and then steal from new conscripts.

This is a Lance Corporal who fell asleep not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in a combat zone, exposing other members of his squad, platoon, company, and everyone else in that patrol base to the actual enemy.  His job was to watch the wire.  Everybody hurts when they’re on watch.  If you start to nod off, you wake somebody else up.  You find your relief and say “hey, I’m going to flat pass the hell out”.  He may be mad, but he’ll be less mad than waking up to getting shot by the enemy.

The general orders for Marines are thus:

1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.

2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.

3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.

4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guardhouse than my own.

5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.

6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Officer of the Day, Officers, and Non-Commissioned Officers of the guard only.

7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.

8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.

9. To call the Corporal of the Guard in any case not covered by instructions.

10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.

11. To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

Aside from number 7, he can’t do any of these while asleep.  He actually can’t even do number 7, because he’s not actually on duty when he’s asleep and derelict.

Now, to go the official route means a page 11, maybe some counseling forms, and paper that will follow the sleeper his whole career.  It also won’t change anything about his behavior when he’s put on watch.  Or it means he can’t be trusted on watch, which means that someone else has to pick up his slack, which means he’s a burden.  It means a capable, trustworthy Marine is now doing double duty because LCpl Sleepy can’t be trusted.  Or let’s say the Chain of Command really agrees with LCpl Fire Team Leader about LCpl Sleepy and decides to haul him straight off to Ft. Leavenworth.  Well, now the Fire Team is down a Marine.  The only one who wins is the enemy, because there’s one less Marine out there fighting them.

Exposing a Marine to “cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful” acts with the purpose of making a correction means that a Marine might be saved from being kicked out, from poor decisions, or from their own problems that they need to get over in order to watch out for their fellow Marines and make it back home safe.  Everybody gets “hazed” according to that definition throughout boot camp – because it’s a matter of corrections and character building.  The same thing happens afterwards in the fleet.

It is up to Marines in the fleet to make sure that they’re making corrections and using judgement.  Hazing is something else.  Hazing is MRE-heater urine bombs in someone’s gear.  Hazing is intentionally messing with someone just to mess with them.  Corrections are field expedient measures utilizing “cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful” techniques – but not intent – to get the desired result – in this case, get the LCpl to stop falling asleep on watch and endangering everyone – and to make it so someone else doesn’t have to pull double duty to make up for his failures.  Note that every time LCpl Sleepy gets pulled off the line because he can’t be trusted, someone else, a hardworking, diligent Marine, has to make up his slack, and LCpl Hardworker now loses his own sleep and his morale and ability degrade because he’s pulling additional shifts.

The hazing order here also notes something else omitted in the story:

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

This is where a correction comes into play.  The authority used could even be that of Corporal of Sergeant of the Guard, or even senior Lance Corporal in a squad.  It is used to make a correction.  War is a messy business.  When the Taliban is going to come in and cut your damned head off if the sentry falls asleep, you give him a counseling statement.  That doesn’t convey the gravity of the situation.  You’re not dealing with a hypothetical, you’re dealing with life and death every time LCpl Sleepy decides it’s naptime.  Telling some REMF pogue back stateside that you need more peer-to-peer review and conflict resolution forms really doesn’t correct the situation.

“Once you lose trust, you work out of fear,” Rivera said. “Working out of fear destroys any individuals’ initiative since fear motivates us to do the minimum, so you don’t get in trouble.”

If you lose trust in the sentry who keeps falling asleep but can’t be touched because of regulations, you’re in fear all the time that he’ll fall asleep and you’ll be overrun by enemies who will cut your head off and videotape it.  Doing someone else’s job because they sleep through it motivates everyone to do less than the minimum, since the sleeper who won’t do the minimum doesn’t even get in trouble… well, until the enemy gets there.

“Typically, hazing occurs as acts of initiation or in congratulations,” said Chief Warrant Officer Ralph Rivera a legal administrative officer for the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate for Marine Corps Installations Pacific.

“Confused participants seem to think it is a part of our customs and courtesies, (but) those individuals are severely mistaken,” he added. “It’s actually opposite in that when brought to light it sheds a bad picture of our Marine Corps and what we truly are about.”

Hazing destroys Marines’ confidence and trust in their fellow Marines and in unit leadership, undermining unit cohesion and combat readiness, said Amos.

If you’re beating someone up just because they’re the new guy in your unit, MOS, or whatnot, that’s hazing.  Making a sleeper do pushups or dig his own grave with an e-tool is not hazing, it’s correction.  More importantly, it works.

It’s worth noting that there are MOSes that still have actual hazing rituals – and they are part of customs and courtesies, but informally – and they’re voluntary.  The Navy still conducts hazing rituals (for shellbacks and polliwogs and golden shellbacks and things like that), but they’re voluntary.  If you want to go run around the deck of a ship in your underwear and get hit with the fire hose in the Arctic Circle, well, that’s up to you.  If you want to wade through bilge and garbage that should’ve been thrown off the fantail to get your golden merman or whatever the Navy calls it, that’s fine – it’s voluntary.

  1. […] Patriot Perspective makes some interesting distinctions: Exposing a Marine to “cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful” acts with […]

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