Mention the phrase “leave no one behind” to an average group of U.S. servicemembers and you have their attention.

For some, memories of drill instructors during the first days of basic training come flooding back. Others say they remember a roadside bomb blast and a flurry of small-arms fire in the desert.

Many servicemembers of all branches in the Pacific — and especially those in combat arms specialties — say that “leave no one behind” is fundamental to their lives. It applies both in battle and on liberty.

Two soldiers recently used “leave no one behind” as their defense in a Seoul assault trial.

Pvt. Sylvester Antley Clark, 19, told a judge he punched a club bouncer in Seoul on Nov. 11 after the bouncer, Clark said, assaulted his “battle buddy,” the term soldiers in South Korea use for a friend who sticks with them off-post.

“You take care of each other; that’s how it’s supposed to be,” said Clark, who has faced three other assault charges this year for other incidents. “That’s how we’re taught and trained.”

Pfc. Mario Duprey, who faces charges for assaulting a police officer that same night, says that despite drinking heavily, he went to check on Clark when the scuffle ensued.

Duprey, who had no prior arrests, defended his actions as following what he’s been taught by the Army.

“My drill sergeant told us that if your buddy gets locked up, then you’re going in that cell with him,” Duprey said outside the courtroom.

Stars and Stripes queried servicemembers across the Pacific on just how far they’ll go to stand by a buddy.

A few soldiers dismissed Clark and Duprey’s claims as after-the-fact excuses for unacceptable behavior.

Others echoed Duprey: If one buddy goes down, everybody goes down, even if it might mean jail.

How far does it go?

The military ethos of never leaving a person behind “absolutely applies all the time,” said Lance Cpl. D. Carpenter, 22, a weather observer at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

“The worry about getting in trouble is always in the back of your mind, but if you’re with a servicemember — Air Force, Marine, whatever — then you have to be there for them,” he said.

Carpenter’s co-worker, Lance Cpl. Adam Mitchell, agreed.

“You would want them to do it for you if you were the one acting stupid,” Mitchell said.

If the servicemember might wind up arrested, Carpenter said, he would have to be in the situation first before he could say how he would act.

Mitchell said it would depend whether what the servicemember was doing was justified.

“If he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the [Japanese police] started messing with him, you’re not going to let him take the bullet alone. You go down with him,” Mitchell said.

Pvt. Spencer Lemons, a new arrival to the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Casey in South Korea, said “leave no one behind” is a core belief for the infantry — but soldiers should do their best to stop an incident before the first punch is thrown.

“You bring him back, even if he’s kicking and screaming,” Lemons said.

Jumping in to defend a buddy could depend on the situation, he added.

“If he makes a stupid mistake and is breaking the law, then that’s his own deal,” Lemons said. “But if he’s morally right, I’d be there for him.”

However, another new soldier in Lemons’ unit asked him whether there would be time to determine right and wrong.

“Are you going to stop and ask questions?” asked Pvt. David Judson. “When someone hits my friend, I’m going to hit him.”

Airmen at northern Japan’s Misawa Air Base said they aren’t taught to stick by their buddy without regard for consequence.

If his friend is stirring up trouble, the “wingman” should intervene to keep the situation from escalating, said Senior Airman Willie Jones, 23. But “it’s not ‘you did it, I did it, we both get in trouble,’” he said. “The wingman should try to prevent the situation rather than going along with it.”

Airman Jason Verick, 20, said he would back up his wingman in a fight if the friend needed help, but that willingness isn’t driven by any military code of honor. “That’s just part of life,” he said.

But Verick absolutely would not put himself at risk of getting arrested to back up his wingman. “We’re not told that,” he said. “If you try and they’re not listening, you just got to bounce, leave.”

Coming back alone

Verick’s supervisor and his co-workers wouldn’t be mad if his wingman ended up in jail “as long as I put some kind of effort into helping him,” he said.

If Carpenter ever came back without his battle buddy because of a fight, he says his supervisor “would ask why didn’t I stop it to begin with. Why was I letting a friend get into that kind of situation?”

However, Carpenter said he believes his supervisors would understand if circumstances were beyond his control.

Many servicemembers and supervisors stressed the importance of choosing the right people to accompany them during downtime. However, not everyone has veto power over a group, they said.

At Japan’s Yokosuka Naval Base, sailors must have a liberty buddy if they are going to drink alcohol.

Returning to a ship without your liberty buddy in tow can get a sailor in a lot of trouble, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Josue Robles.

“I understand the rule,” he said: “If one person falls, we all fall.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Allison Batdorff, Cindy Fisher and Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.

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