You Know The Drill

December 20th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: You Know The Drill

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 20, 2007
Pg. 1
Abuse of Marine recruits officially banned, but ...
By Steve Liewer and Rick Rogers, Staff Writers
Almost every week, drill instructors greet dozens of young men arriving at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego by screaming orders in their faces.
Over the next 13 weeks, the recruits will endure a training ritual that's part exercise, part drill, part motivation and part hazing. The process will break some and drive most to tears.
Marine boot camp, widely regarded as the most grueling among the military branches, is designed to mold undisciplined recruits into the world's finest warriors.
“The more we sweat in peacetime, the less we bleed in combat,” said Bill Paxton of Santee, a retired Marine sergeant major, repeating an oft-repeated training refrain. “We don't want 'em to make it no softer.”
But experience and scandal have shown that the Corps' tough-love approach to training can turn troublesome when the toughness runs roughshod over the love.
In February, the San Diego depot's commanders dismissed four drill instructors after what prosecutors described as “two months of terror” for recruits from Platoon 2167. Several officers charged with overseeing or investigating the alleged cruelty also were relieved of their positions.
The platoon's most junior drill instructor, Sgt. Jerrod Glass, was sentenced last month to six months in prison and a dishonorable discharge for mistreating 23 recruits. Witnesses testified that he struck his men with tent poles, hit them with flashlights and forced them to drink water until they vomited.
Sgt. Brian Wendel, the platoon's No.2 drill instructor, received a demotion and a career-ending reprimand this week for not reporting Glass' abuse. The senior drill instructor, Sgt. Robert Hankins, is scheduled for court-martial next month.
Glass and other former drill instructors contend that recruit abuse is common despite the Marine Corps' official disapproval of it.
“There are always ways to circumvent the (rules),” Glass testified. “Drill instructors do it every day.”
Often, he said, those actions included taking advantage of loopholes that allow drill instructors to touch recruits when adjusting their equipment or correcting their positions and movements.
There's a big gap between the standards drawn up by desk-bound officers and what works on the drill field and in the recruit barracks, said Al Batinga, a Marine drill instructor in the 1970s.
“It is not really based in reality,” said Batinga, now a corporate consultant in Orange County. “It's like an administrator telling a football team how to win games.”
The Corps' rules are too restrictive for Marines destined for combat, said David Payne, a former drill instructor who trained as many as 600 recruits at the San Diego depot from 1996 to 1999.
“It's impossible to follow all the regulations and still turn out the type of trained Marine the service expects, especially in time of war,” said Payne, now a production worker for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
As a drill instructor, he used an unwritten rule of thumb to guide his training: “If you can explain the training value of something, it's legal. If you can't, it probably isn't.”
For at least half a century and through a half-dozen wars, the Marines have formally barred recruit abuse. Drill instructors can't strike recruits, for example. They can't starve them or give punishment exercises lasting more than eight minutes at a time. They can't use degrading language, nicknames or profanity against recruits.
“The Marine Corps has no tolerance of drill-instructor misconduct,” said Maj. Kristen Lasica, a spokeswoman for the San Diego depot.
Many of the rules governing operations at the Corps' two boot camps stemmed from two highly publicized cases:
A 1956 exercise at the Marines' training depot at Parris Island, S.C., in which six recruits drowned while under the orders of drunken drill instructors.
A 1975 incident at the San Diego depot in which a slow recruit was beaten to death with pugil sticks while a drill instructor watched.
The cases prompted major revisions and caused the Marine Corps to boost officers' supervision of recruit training. Today, sergeants studying to be drill instructors spend 116 hours in classrooms studying regulations.
Yet recruit abuse persists.
In the past four years, at least 44 drill instructors have been disciplined for misconduct against recruits at the San Diego depot, according to statistics provided by the Corps.
Disciplinary actions jumped markedly after Brig. Gen. Angela Salinas took command of the base last year. In 2005, six drill instructors were punished for misconduct. The number was 21 in 2006 and 17 this year.
The testimony of prospective jurors at Wendel's court-martial indicated that recruit abuse has taken place over the years. Six of the 13 Marines considered for the panel – all officers or senior enlisted Marines whose names weren't made public – said they were abused during boot camp years ago. All of them said the misconduct was neither reported nor punished.
A master sergeant said drill instructors whipped him across the face with a rifle, threw him to the ground and kicked him in the chest at Parris Island on separate occasions in 1989.
“At the time, I did not feel like I was being abused,” recalled the master sergeant, who now trains drill instructors at the San Diego depot. “When I became a drill instructor, I found out that most of the things that happened to me were outside the (rules) – even at the time.”
A colonel who rose from the enlisted ranks said hitting recruits was routine when he went through boot camp in 1980. He said his drill instructor struck him several times, usually as an example to others.
“It was just accepted. I saw other Marines, the same thing happened to them,” the colonel testified. “For training, it didn't seem like that big of a deal. After graduation, you look back and see these things weren't supposed to happen.”
But not all drill instructors found the regulations vague.
Nick Popaditch of Linda Vista, a former gunnery sergeant, said the rules against mistreating recruits were strong and clear when he served as a drill instructor at the San Diego depot in the late 1990s.
“It's very black and white. You very definitely ... know what's right and what's wrong,” said Popaditch, who left the Marine Corps after losing an eye when insurgents ambushed his tank in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
More than the other services, the Corps has a reputation of seeking recruits with exceptional physical abilities who yearn to prove themselves as elite fighters. It prefers to focus on expeditionary combat, while the Army trains its men and women to not only fight battles but also take on long-term reconstruction and security work in war zones.
The point of boot camp is to toughen recruits by “slinging stress” so they're more prepared to deal with war, Popaditch said. A drill instructor should instill fear without doing harm, he added.
“Just beating on somebody – it's not going to be scary the second time you do it,” Popaditch said. “You threaten a lot. Your bark is always worse than your bite.”
There's widespread agreement that the Marine Corps has gradually become clearer in defining recruit abuse and more stringent in banning it, partly in response to each recruit-abuse crisis.
Tom Richards of Rancho Bernardo said recruit abuse wasn't allowed in his day, either, but that drill instructors could get away with more in those days because they had far less supervision.
“I know people who absolutely believed corporal punishment was necessary. There are some who still do,” said Richards, who served 28 years in the Marine Corps and worked as a drill instructor in the early 1970s.
He said practices such as slapping recruits or putting buckets over their heads and banging on them with sticks are no longer allowed.
“We don't want to mollycoddle them,” Richards said. “We still should treat them with a basic level of human dignity. We can do that without putting them in garbage cans or pushing them into lockers.”
Paxton, the retired sergeant major from Santee, fears that punishing drill instructors might dissuade them from doing their jobs.
“We're not proud to know that we're court-martialing our own drill instructors, or that we're putting Marines in prison,” said Paxton, who left the Marine Corps in 1983 but still works at the San Diego depot. “It's going to cause our drill instructors to back off.”
But Paxton – like all the sources interviewed for this story – opposed pointless abuse of recruits.
“For someone just to flat-out harm a recruit, with no intention of making him a Marine, that's abuse, and that won't be tolerated,” he said.
December 9th, 2009  
as a marine recruit i personaly agree with the way Payne put it “If you can explain the training value of something, it's legal. If you can't, it probably isn't.” recruits should not be drowning or being beat to death, but the amount of rules DIs have now a days is rediculous. their job is to get recruits ready for war. the enemy has no rules and will stop at nothing to win. DIs should not be able to beat you to the point of hospitalisation for serious injury that stops you from completing your training but the fact that they practicaly can not lay a fingure on you appalls me. and that they cant use profain language or hurtfull nicknames is insulting. bootcamp use to be not only be to train marines but to weed out the weaker ones that cant handle it this needs to change and i hope it does before i leave for bootcamp so i may recieve the full training that i need.

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