Marine Corps hazing and unlawful command influence in 1st Marine Division - Major General Smith's War on lance corporals and Brig roundup
There was an interesting development in a Marine Corps hazing case this week. A military judge at Camp Pendelton, California ruled that the Commanding General of 1st Marine Division committed unlawful command influence in a court-martial.
The motion and evidence filed in court is here.
The death of a Muslim recruit at Parris Island has thrust a culture of hazing in the Marine Corps into the public spotlight. Major General Eric Smith took command of 1st Marine Division on June 22, 2017. He immediately began threatening his subordinates that he "will personally adjudicate all hazing cases and all substantiated cases will result in mandatory processing for separation. Please do not mistake this as an idle threat. It is a fact."
It certainly appears from Major General Smith's early directives that he sensed an inherent tension between Marine Corps policies and culture - a sub-culture to be clear. On July 27, 2017, Major General Smith outlined his philosophy. He was going to adopt a father-figure style of leadership. He wrote "I don't give a rat's rear about personal comfort, I care about winning the fight and bringing the Marines home with their honor clean."
He went on to outline his ideal Marine. Sleeves properly rolled. No profanity. He wanted to de-glamorize alcohol.
"There is a 'sub-culture' in our Corps. Maybe there always has been. Whether it is anti-women, anti-minority, anti-gay, etc, we have to kill it off."
Major General Smith continued "[Loyalty] is to the constitution, nation, and Corps. It is not to your squad mate or unit." In emails filed in court, it becomes clear that Major General Smith would launch a war on hazing. The problem is that his tactics are causing more destruction to morale and discipline than they likely intended.
The breaking point for Major General Smith was on July 12, 2017. In the roughly two weeks since he outlined his vision for the ideal Marine, there were 5 allegations of hazing in the Division. By the morning of the 12th, there were two more allegations.
On the 12th, Major General Smith sent an email in which he intended to place pressure on the junior Marines - particularly lance corporals. Rather than win their hearts and minds, he would make them "stamp out the problem from their own ranks." In a fatherly way of course. He said "the Marine Corps owns the barracks, not a few salty LCpls who probably can't fight their way out of a wet paper sack."
He was instituting additional barracks duty NCOs and rovers. There would be 2 duty NCOs and 2 rovers at a time. Investigations of allegations would be completed in 7 days. A recipe, of course, for a sloppy investigation.
As an afterthought, the general wrote "I'm not here to inflict group punishment, but my assessment is that I've just been flipped the bird by lots of LCpls, so I'm headed their way to demonstrate that this is an unwise COA..."
The general's philosophy didn't really catch the attention of lawyers until the general started rounding up lance corporals and throwing them in the brig. On the morning of July 13th, 6 Marines were sent to the brig for hazing allegations. On the morning of the July 14th, it was 14 more Marines. That kind of pace would continue through August.
The military does not have a bail system. Commanders have the authority to confine Marines. There is a due process system in place to review that decision. But, the system has flaws. Major flaws. The initial magistrate is usually not a lawyer. It's a career Marine officer assigned the duty. The confinement review is often rubber-stamped.
It's clear that the effect of Major General Smith's policy is that he would lock up his own Marines regardless of whether they deserve to be in jail or not. A 7 day investigation is all they would get. Major General Smith said that he did not intend to wait for NCIS to conduct an investigation before taking action.
This firm has already seen cases out of Twentynine Palms now where sergeants major are having massive formations and publicly humiliating Marines accused of hazing. Sometimes it's the silliest of allegations - like ordering another Marine to perform a plank.
The irony. A law and order general would abuse the law in order to change the sub-culture.
This much is clear. Major General Smith's War on Lance Corporals is having the opposite effect. He can add to the sub-culture - distrust of leadership.