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Letters from boot camp foreshadowed abuse allegations at Parris Island

Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, commanding officer of 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, gives a tour of the 3rd Battalion barracks on Oct. 9, 2014, on Parris Island, S.C. Kissoon is the highest-ranked Marine to be referred to a court-martial in the wake of the hazing and recruit abuse scandal.

DAVID BESSEY/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By WADE LIVINGSTON | The Island Packet | Published: October 29, 2017

(HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — Shortly after Platoon 3036’s graduation on May 15, 2015, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island received a letter from a father.

The letter alleged numerous instances of abuse or mistreatment of his son and other recruits – some that allegedly resulted in injury – and prompted a preliminary investigation on Parris Island. And the letter’s author, who identified himself as a military veteran, offered words of caution that foreshadowed dark events that would occur months later on the depot.

The letter is part of several documents The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette obtained through a federal Freedom of Information Act request.

Those documents, seven hazing investigations – newly released, the remainder of such inquires conducted between Jan. 1, 2014, and March 21, the first 15 of which the newspapers reported on in April – consist of over 150 pages of heavily redacted text. The Corps initially told the newspapers there were 24 such investigations but has released only 22, citing an administrative error that it said led to a miscount. Of those cases, 12 were substantiated, the Corps said in April, though it would not disclose which ones.

The documents have been released in small batches over the past nine months. Collectively, they show allegations of hazing and recruit abuse – ranging from physical violence to inappropriate language – in each of Parris Island’s four recruit training battalions.

The newest files, summarized below, reveal allegations against the depot’s Support Battalion, too. Like those in the first group of files, the “Opinions” or “Recommendations” sections – revealing portions of the files where investigators offer a sense of what might have happened, and what action they feel should be taken – are often heavily redacted, if not entirely blacked out. Sections entitled “Findings of Fact” or “Summary of Findings” were mostly visible, with the exception of names that were redacted.

The letter following Platoon 3036’s graduation was only lightly redacted. It was signed “v/r Concerned Parent.”

“First, thank you for your service and the wonderful ceremony last week for India and Papa Companies,” read one of the first lines of the letter, which was emailed to an undisclosed recipient on May 18, 2015. “Second, I apologize for writing an anonymous e-mail, but I do not want the (drill instructors) to call forward to (Marine Corps Base Camp) Lejeune to mark my son for this e-mail, as he is unaware that I am sending this.

“I am afraid I am going to be one of the parents who is very concerned about the treatment that the new Marines underwent at 3rd (Recruit Training Battalion), specifically Platoon 3036,” the letter continued. “I confirmed with my friends who were DIs on Parris Island, and they agree that you need to be aware of what is going on.”

The email address of the sender was blacked out by the Corps, but the signature that accompanied it – “Retired MSGT” – remains. The author identified himself as a parent, a Marine who trained on Parris Island in 1988, who worked there from 1992 to 1995 and is the son of a Vietnam-era Marine.

The sender said his son shared stories from boot camp, how the platoon was told that its blankets were only for “decoration” and not to be used, how his son and his platoon mates would put on extra T-shirts and socks at night and stuff their hands in their shirts “as the barracks rooms were ice cold each night.”

The letter further alleged that one of the DIs “liked to slam the recruits against the wall while wrapping their hands around their neck and choking them.” “My son was not complaining, but he was bragging about how he couldn’t breathe and talk ... as if it was an honor.”

And the letter stated that his son suffered a dislocated shoulder when he was slammed into a wall.

The day after the letter was received, Marine Corps investigators conducted phone interviews with six Marines, former recruits in Platoon 3036. All of them denied practically every allegation made in the letter, including this one: a “common phrase given to the recruits was ‘What happens in 3rd BN, stays in 3rd BN.’ ”

The former recruits did say that drill instructors’ foul language” – another accusation in the letter – was infrequent and, in their judgment, accidental.

“Now, my father is a Marine from 1969,” the letter continued. “I was there in 1988. We both had hard core DIs, but not once did they ever touch us. Their style of leadership was already intimidating enough to make us move and feel as if we earned the title Marine.”

And then the author wrote something that would prove true.

“The 3rd BN-type of leadership will eventually lead to severe consequences for someone, which I am sure you are aware.”

Less than two months after that letter was sent, then-3rd Battalion recruit Ameer Bourmeche suffered burns after he was allegedly ordered into a commercial clothes dryer and interrogated about his Muslim faith and loyalty to Corps and country.

One of the drill instructors implicated in that incident, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, is expected this week to stand trial by general court-martial for his alleged abuse of Bourmeche, and for his alleged mistreatment of former recruit Raheel Siddiqui, who leaped to his death March 18, 2016, moments after a reported altercation with the DI.

Siddiqui’s death and the investigation of it spawned a depot-wide hazing probe, much of which centered on allegations of recruit abuse in 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

That Battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, was relieved. He awaits court-martial for allegedly failing to prevent Felix – who was already under investigation for the dryer incident in March 2016 – from supervising Siddiqui’s platoon.

Other “high-vis” reliefs of command – including that of regimental commander Col. Paul Cucinotta – have occurred.

Over a dozen DIs faced possible charges.

Some have faced court-martial. At least one has been acquitted. Some have been dealt with administratively, though the Corps won’t disclose the outcomes.

Only one of the drill instructors who faced charges has “returned to his duties,” the Corps said recently.

©2017 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
Visit The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) at www.islandpacket.com
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