Members say Hash House Harrier club's image unfairly tarnished by Marine's trial

By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 19, 2004

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Imagine a recreational club in which military rank and respect seem to be disregarded as commanders, lieutenants, sergeants — even privates — call each other sexually explicit nicknames while drinking beer. A club in which members gather at off-base parks and recreational areas, singing rowdy, sometimes culturally and sexually insensitive, songs.

These Hash House Harrier clubs, part of a worldwide organization with tens of thousands of members, can be found on or near many Pacific-area bases, from sleepy Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, to the Kanto-area bases in sprawling Tokyo. From a club that meets in a bar district just outside the headquarters for U.S. Forces Korea in Seoul, to Okinawa — where a Marine lieutenant was court-martialed and kicked out of the Marine Corps for actions related to the club.

The Hash House Harriers are self-described as a “drinking club with a running problem.” But these days clubs in the Pacific, especially Okinawa, may be suffering more of an image problem.

Many members say what happened on Okinawa — including drunken parties and nude runs — doesn’t represent Hashing. They admit that alcohol is a big part of the tradition and say the sexually explicit nicknames are given in fun, but they downplay fears of fraternization.

“This problem was not because of the Okinawa Hash House,” said a Navy chief who was formerly the club’s president. “It was a bad choice made by this one guy after the Hash run.”

The chief said the nicknames are not offensive. But of the 117 nicknames listed on Okinawa’s Hash Web site recently, more than half could not be printed in this paper.

“It’s all in fun,” the chief said. “It’s all impromptu and what name you get depends on who’s there. You wouldn’t give someone an obscene name after a family run.”

The chief, whose nickname is [expletive deleted] Einstein, also said the nude runs and swimming were done by a small group of Hashers at what are known as UGHs, or Underground Hashes.

“I don’t believe they have anything to do with the Hash,” he said. “They are not sponsored by the Hash. It’s just a few individuals taking it to a different level.”

The chief, like most of the people who spoke to Stripes for this report, would not allow his name to be printed; they say they are being persecuted in a “witch hunt” by military officials.

Conduct unbecoming?

The Marines on Okinawa confirmed they’re looking closely at what happened with Okinawa’s Hash club.

“The Hash House Harriers is not a command-sponsored organization and we are in the process of reviewing the conduct of some Marine members,” said Col. Richard C. Dunn, chief of staff, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, the command that covers all Marine bases on Okinawa.

“This command takes seriously any allegation of misconduct that impacts on good order and discipline,” he said. “Each individual bears the title of Marine at all times and represents the service whether on duty or off, whether in uniform or out.”

Fraternization is defined as behavior between an officer and an enlisted that leads “to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or of a nature to bring discredit on the armed forces,” according to the Manual for Courts-Martial.

In South Korea, 8th Army spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said “any misconduct undermines good order and discipline and reduces overall readiness.”

But, he said, “They are private clubs and as such, have no official affiliation with the military. With the exception of extremist organizations, the Army does not promote, endorse or restrict membership in private clubs that operate in the civilian and or private sector.”

He said that Hash clubs are “not on the list of approved private organizations that can meet on post.”

Concerning fraternization between officers and enlisted, he said the Army has explicit regulations.

Boylan said the Army recognizes that contact between officers and enlisted can be acceptable.

“However, military custom precludes situations that undermine command authority and threaten the good order, morale and discipline of the unit.”

“Although no specific guidance is provided regarding ‘Hash clubs,’ all officer and enlisted airmen are briefed that fraternization is illegal,” said Charles Steitz, a spokesman for the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

“There is no specific prohibition for these clubs,” he said. “However, participation in such clubs by officers could be considered conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, punishable under Article 133 of the UCMJ.”

The issue came to light in October, when officials on Okinawa began investigating Marine 1st Lt. Nathan Daniels. During a January court-martial, he admitted to adultery with a married staff sergeant, running nude, skinny dipping, performing mock sexual acts and fraternizing with enlisted troops. On Jan. 29 he was sentenced to 30 days in jail and was kicked out of the Marine Corps for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

A Marine gunnery sergeant also was given a recent competency hearing as a result of his participation in Okinawa’s Hash club. Marine officials declined to release the results of that hearing.

An extended family

Larry “Stray Dog” McDowell, who is one of the most prominent of the publishers of Hash sites on the Internet (www.gthhh.com), said he’s seen an increase in the lewd behavior in U.S. hashes in recent years.

“My first hash was the Okinawa Hash House Harriers,” McDowell said in an e-mail interview. “It was originally a family-style Hash and I even brought my 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to the runs. There may have been a little off-colored language, but not much and it was curbed around the children.”

When he retired to the States, he found a different sort of Hash, he said.

“When I traveled around the U.S. attending some events, I met with members of some really crude clubs where nudity and gross behavior was normal,” he wrote. “But these activities were mostly in special, weekend long events held in private areas, where you knew what you were attending, not weekly runs. Again, most clubs, even in the U.S., have boundaries on such behavior, only a few have gone overboard or had members who do so.”

A civilian contractor who asked to be known only by his Hash nickname “SLAP (Squeals Like A Pig)” said the past two years with the Hash have been the best of his 15 years on the island.

“And you can travel around the world and wherever you go there’s a Hash. All you have to do is contact them and they help you out. I was in Shanghai over Christmas and ran with the Hash there. It was great.”

He said the nude UGHs are not part of the Hash and the club shouldn’t be damned for the acts of a few members.

“Every Hash is not a drunken orgy,” he said. “Many take part and don’t drink alcohol. Many bring their kids. We have family Hashes. It’s just not an ‘anything goes’ organization.”

The future?

The chief said he is unsure about the future of the Okinawa Hash House Harriers. Many members are staying away, hoping the controversy blows over.

“We’re not some sex-crazed swingers club,” he said. “It really hurts me to have to distance myself from something that’s been a huge part of my life. I’ve met many good friends and my wife at the Hash.

“But people are scared,” he said. “They are worried that just their participation in the Hash could reflect negatively on them. I know I am afraid it will have a negative impact on me and my career.”

Members are so concerned about the bad press that they have asked for their pictures and names be removed from the Okinawa Hash’s Web site.

Their home page now contains the following disclaimer: “Due to the activities of a few H3 members and the current ‘Bad Press’ brought upon by these activities. The Okinawa H3 is reexamining itself and trying to put forth a more positive light on the experience for all former, current and future members (if there will be a future …).”

“We’re trying to do damage control, basically,” the chief said. “Our reputation is destroyed.”

Jeremy Kirk contributed to this report.

What happens at the hash?

There are more than 1,600 Hash clubs worldwide, with tens of thousands of members. The first club was started in 1938 by a bored group of British expatriates in Malaysia, who met regularly at a Kuala Lumpur restaurant affectionately known as “the Hash House” because of its bland food.

Hash — named after the house — now refers to the group and the runs, which are modeled after the old English schoolboy game of “Hounds and Hares,” in which a runner called the “hare” sets a trail and is then pursued by the pack, following trail markers along a course usually three to five miles long.

Drinking beer is an integral, but not required, part of the Hash, members say, and beer and nonalcoholic beverages are available at stops along the trail and at the “circle” ceremony conducted at the end.

There is a loose set of guidelines handed from club to club in which new members, called virgins, are initiated into the group with a fraternity-style ceremony called a “down down,” where beer is chugged while the other Hashers sing ribald songs and baptize the new member with nicknames.

— David Allen