Hazing being blamed for Marine recruit’s suicide
Hazing being blamed for Marine recruit’s suicide
It is completely heartbreaking when a recruit dies in training. In March, Raheel Siddiqui, a Muslim Marine recruit from Michigan, died at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island when he flung himself off a forty-foot high stairwell. The cause of death was blunt force trauma. It has been ruled a suicide.
To date several officers and senior enlisted have been relieved of duty, and up to twenty more Marines may be punished in this incident. Investigations into hazing recruit abuse are ongoing, and many are saying that hazing led to this incident. Just prior to Siddiqui’s jump, he was being made to run up and down the squad bay. When he fell to the deck and appeared unresponsive, the drill instructor is said to have slapped him up to three times. At that point Siddiqui got up, ran through the squad bay and jumped to his death.
This is so sad. It is even more awful to learn than less than a week before this happened, Siddiqui said he wanted to kill himself. From the news reports it appears he talked to his recruiter and to a medical professional. Supposedly he said he changed his mind and he was sent back to training. A few days later he complained of a sore throat, which initiated his contact with the drill instructor.
The drill instructor has not been named, but his record would have foretold a potential for stepping over the line. He had been investigated for being intoxicated and previously abusing another Muslim recruit. Siddiqui’s alleged abuse has not yet been found to be based on discriminatory motivations, but the similarity is troubling.
The military reactions to these types of events is always predictable – more supervision, more awareness training, changes to assignment processes.
New measures incorporated in the training program include an increased officer presence and supervision of training; mandatory suspension of any Marine investigated for recruit abuse, hazing or maltreatment; better visibility and reviews of investigations above the regimental level; modification of the assignment processes for drill instructors and officers; a halt to of any practice based on differentiating between drill instructors of differing experience levels, and a review; and possible revision to mental health processes and procedures, including suicide prevention protocols.
From my experience, I would say that ever since the Ribbon Creek incident sixty years ago, there has rarely been a true problem with awareness or supervision. The real reason these incidents happen can only be explained by the Perfect Storm. These are two people who never should have met. A recruit who threatens suicide at any point in training, much less a week into training, is a recruit who never should have been sent to the depot. A drill instructor that cannot control his drinking, and tries to put recruits into clothes dryers would have shown signs of this extreme behavior before this fateful day. At the least, he should have been moved to another billet immediately. Why he wasn’t can probably be explained by the extreme pressure to complete his drill field assignment. I won’t say that every case of extreme abuse with dire consequences could be prevented, but it’s darn close.
So why do these things continue to happen? Being a recruiter and being a drill instructor are two of the most pressure-cooked garrison jobs in the Marine Corps. Each is under immense pressure to perform, and non-performance – which may mean simply being adequate – is frequently a career ender. The recruiter and the drill instructor are expected to excel in all aspects of their 70, 80, 90, 100+ hour weeks. Recruiters are doing their best to sell a trip to hell to entitled immature Americanized youth. They have quotas to meet each month. They travel far and wide to find interested, and they hope, smart and fit young men and women. Their job doesn’t end when they get the kids on the bus either. They must stay in contact with their recruits to encourage them to complete training. If the recruit drops out, it reflects poorly on the recruiter.
The drill instructor experiences the intensity of the job in an up close and personal way. He (or she) picks up a platoon and aside from a handful of hours, does not leave those recruits for the next thirteen weeks. Drill instructors eat, sleep, and breathe with these recruits all day, every day, seven days a week. Drill instructors must meet qualifications goals, so regardless of what quality the recruiter has sent them, they must turn that hunk of humanity into a Marine. It’s a lot harder when that recruit arrives unfit or with mental problems.
Drill instructors are not only worried about taking care of their recruits, they also know they are being watched doing it. They are under scrutiny everywhere they go, and frequently get reprimanded because of one-sided reports – someone only saw part of a situation without knowing the whole story. The Fishbowl is real and drill instructors must deal with their every move being judged. To deal with the pressure, some drill instructors resort to abuse of alcohol, devolve into domestic violence, and also commit suicide.
Finding a balance between discipline and hazing can often be hard to determine. To many who have not experienced this environment, the line may not seem so gray, but believe me it is. Drill instructors doing knuckle headed stunts don’t always cause injury, but seem stupid in hindsight. Sometimes they are outright wrong in the beginning, but maturity and leadership from superiors will help curb these incidents.
But figuring out how much to push a straggling recruit is where the real judgment is needed. Recruits are often full of excuses. Some are legitimate, but many aren’t because the recruit does not know his or her own potential. It is up to the drill instructor to know which excuses to ignore. For any drill instructor, much less one with self-control issues, this very fine distinction is difficult to detect. A lot of things can happen in the instance that the drill instructor decides to ignore a complaint. The recruit can suffer real trauma. The recruit can lodge a complaint against the drill instructor, which could end his or her career. Or the recruit can succeed beyond anything he or she ever thought possible. It’s a tough call, but it’s one that drill instructors have to get right 100% of the time.
A recruit should never die in training due to suicide or abuse. Every prevention program and increase in supervision will never do any good until we look at all the contributing factors, including those that happen long before anyone steps foot on the parade deck.