Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hazing or Correcting?

Over at This Ain't Hell, John Lilyea discusses the not guilty verdict for a Marine Sergeant who was accused of hazing one of his troops by making him dig a fighting position after finding him asleep on guard duty.  The young Marine later killed himself, and other members of the unit are being investigated and prosecuted over accusations of hazing.  It doesn't help that the guy was related to a Congresswoman who is apparently screaming from the rooftops over the verdict.

Lilyea makes a good point that making on-the-spot corrections is what NCO's do.  Whether it's a Petty Officer telling a seaman to re-mop and wax a floor in the barracks, a Tech Sergeant telling an airman to fix his uniform, a Staff Sergeant telling a private to tie down the antenna on his vehicle, or a Corporal telling a Lance Corporal to wake up when on guard duty, that's the job.  NCO's fix the small stuff so that officers can concentrate on getting their own jobs done.  Telling a private to get his entrenching tool out and dig a fighting position so that he won't fall asleep on guard duty might sound extreme, but if it's for a repeat offender, I don't consider it outside the realm of reason.

I was a Sergeant in the Army, and I made corrections to my soldiers every day.  Sometimes I had to be creative to get through to them, but get through to them I did.

Case in point (Warning:  "No kidding, there I was" story dead ahead)

When I was a team leader, we got in a brand new Private First Class I'll call PFC GildedTurd.  This guy was a recruiting poster in the flesh.  He was fit, he looked good, and he knew just the perfect way to salute and sound off to the officers.  He was intelligent, and could parrot chapter and verse from the study guides for Soldier of the Month boards.  The officers loved him because he made a great guy to put in front of a static display or Powerpoint presentation and give a briefing.

Problem was, he was a bag of shit.  Kind of rough way to describe a man, but that's probably the best way I can do it. 

The man was a womanizer.  He'd been sent to us because he got transferred to Huachuca from Fort Campbell due to family considerations.  By family considerations, I mean he whined to his branch manager that he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant while he was a student at Huachuca, he wanted to marry said strumpet, and she didn't want to leave Arizona for Kentucky.  Matrimony didn't seem to slow him down, as I, being his team leader, got multiple calls from irate husbands and fathers about him.  On at least one occasion he was sent home from a high profile exercise because after being caught with a married woman and being told to have nothing to with her, he went back for more and got caught again.

His image as the perfectly dressed soldier interfered with our mission of keeping six tracks, six generators, two five ton trucks, and two HMMWV's up and running in the motorpool.  He would show up in perfectly starched BDU's and spit shined jungle boots (with green canvas sides, because, and I quote, that's old school).  I would also show up to the motor pool with a pressed uniform and shined boots. Difference was, by the time the day was over, I'd look like I'd just stormed the beaches at Prudo Bay, and he'd still be as pressed and shiny as he was at first formation.  His track was always spotless, or at least the visible parts of it were, but it was also deadlined whenever someone else did the maintenance.  GildedTurd didn't want to get dirty and mess up his uniform and boots.  As his leader, I learned to double-check his work whenever it was done in a dusty or oily environment.

He was also something of a malingerer.  You could always tell when he was due a PT test because he'd show up with some injury that would keep him from doing PT or taking a PT test just long enough for him to go on an assignment for a few weeks.  Thing was, you could tell he was in shape, because on the odd occasion where he couldn't come up with an excuse to not take it, he scored pretty well on the test.  He wasn't maxing it out by any means, but neither was he in danger of failing it.

He had a problem with punctuality and being in the proper uniform.  He'd show up late to PT wearing BDU's, or not wearing the prescribed gloves, hat, and sweats during the winter.  His excuse seemed to be summed up with "I forgot" or "Only wusses wear that stuff". 

Now, as leaders, the squad leader and I counseled him, worked with him, chewed his butt, and did whatever we could to help him improve.  We could tell that if he would just learn that looking the part was only part of the solution, he could be a good soldier.

But after taking another in a long line of butt chewings because GildedTurd showed up to PT late and in the wrong uniform, I had had it.  I wrote him up, and prescribed something that in retrospect was a pretty silly solution to an equally silly problem:

I told a grown man, who was actually a year older than I was, that he could not be trusted to dress himself in the morning.  I directed him to meet me at our office one hour prior to PT every morning for a week and to bring every uniform he owned in his duffel bag.  I made him lay out every stitch he had, and would then make sure he had the proper uniform available to him.  I directed him to take it into another room and dress, and inspected him before we went to the PT field together 20 minutes early for formation. 

By doing this I hoped to get through to him that I was willing to inconvenience myself and him in order to get him to be where he was supposed to be and in the proper uniform.

Was it silly?  Yep. 

Was it a pain in both our asses?  Yep 

Did it get him to PT in the proper uniform five days in a row, a feat that he had been unable to accomplish in the year he had been with us?  Yep. 

Did he ever show up to PT late or in the wrong uniform again?  Nope.

Did he complain to high heaven and everyone who would listen that I was a big meanie and I didn't like him?  You betcha.  I got, and may lightning strike me if I exaggerate, telephone calls or in-person questioning from the Platoon Sergeant, Platoon Leader, First Sergeant, PFC GildedTurd's wife, and the battalion chaplain.  I heard that he had threatened to call the Inspector General and his Congressman, but I never heard of anything official on it.

Did I get a quiet talking to by the First Sergeant to check to make sure I wasn't taking the young man behind the barracks for an ass beating?  Yep

Did I have a not so quiet debate behind closed doors with the Platoon Sergeant over my authority as a leader to correct my soldier's deficiencies?  Yep

Did I correct his behavior, even if it was only one aspect of it, without putting a black mark on his permanent record and making my leadership problem into my commander's leadership problem?  Definitely

My point is this:  By the time a leader gets creative in trying to correct the behavior of a subordinate, it's almost always after trying all of the normal, sane methods.  There is a fine line between correcting a problem soldier often enough in a way that gets through to them and abusing or hazing them.  Every NCO has to learn where that line is and respect it.  But using somewhat unorthodox, but still legal, methods to fix defective soldiers is better than referring them to the commander for official punishment.


Six said...

That was really well said and took me back in time. If NCOs are stripped of their ability to make such corrections then the military is doomed to third world status. Actions such as yours and that Marine's are in keeping with both the spirit and letter of the NCO credo. Well done to the both of you.

LabRat said...

There's also the cause-and-effect relationships here which may be backward in the assumptions being made.

Being bullied/hazed can cause depression, but major depression can also manifest in a general inability to keep one's shit together, which would create a leadership problem for the NCOs. Maybe the guy needed psychiatric care more than he needed correction, but it can be damned hard to tell from the outside.

DaddyBear said...

Good point LabRat. I had people who I knew were pretty well put together turn into hairballs when we were away from home more than a few days. Depression and possibly other psychological problems probably played a part in that. Looking back, a lot of the guys I worked with were probably undiagnosed Aspergers cases, and knowing now what I didn't then, I'm sure that the sudden changes in environment that the military can bring was very rough for them.

Unfortunately, unless a leader sees a soldier exhibiting symptoms that could get himself or someone else hurt, they probably won't get them to see a psych or the chaplain, who is probably easier to get to and fills that role in some way to a lot of soldiers.

If the Marine in the article deployed with his unit and started developing symptoms of depression in-theater, such as radical changes in behavior and professionalism, then his leadership probably should have referred him for help, even if it was just to get him someone to talk to who wasn't in the same situation he was in. When you're eating the same dirt, working the same hours, and living in the same tent as the guy who can't handle it, it's sometimes hard to sympathize.

There's also the cultural stigma of going to talk to someone that runs deep in the military, or at least did when I was in. A leader sending one of her troops to talk to a doctor might be ending that soldier's career over a case of homesickness or a Dear John letter. Add to that the fact that as an Intel weenie, having a psych consult could get a clearance revoked paco tiempo, and the incentive to try other means to solve problems is even bigger.

I personally look at military suicides and ask "Where were his buddies?". Even the worst dirtbag in a platoon has at least a couple of people he or she talks to, and if they sense that something bad is about to happen, they should go to leadership or the chaplain for help. We even got yearly anti-suicide training to help us see the signs in ourselves and others and know where to go to get them taken care of.

Sean D Sorrentino said...

"Did I get a quiet talking to by the First Sergeant to check to make sure I wasn't taking the young man behind the barracks for an ass beating? Yep"

If he was anything like my First Sergeant, his next question would have been "Why not?"

Borepatch said...


Aphael said...

Heh. I got caught asleep on guard once in Iraq. If digging a fighting position was the only thing that had come of that, I would have been much happier. According to the linked post, this was his fifth offense. If anything, I'm surprised at the laxity of the leadership.

Drang said...

Did I have a not so quiet debate behind closed doors with the Platoon Sergeant over my authority as a leader to correct my soldier's deficiencies?
It will probably not come as a surprise to you that I'm actually calculating the odds that your PSG at the time may have worked for me at some point. I doubt it.
If so, I need to look him up and kick his ass.

DaddyBear said...

Drang, he was a good leader, but he was worried that I was being too rough with the guy. No worries. And it was almost two decades ago. I doubt he'd remember.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

"Over at This Ain't Hell, John Lilyea discusses the not guilty verdict for a Marine Sergeant who was accused of hazing one of his troops by making him dig a fighting position after finding him asleep on guard duty."

I'd like to know why digging a fighting position after a clear dereliction of duty would even remotely been CONSIDERED as "hazing"?

Sounds like corrective creative action to me. My God, that he may have had to actually WORK?


Jim said...

Ordering an asleep-on-watch Marine to dig a hole and your correction of the poster-boy gold brick strike me as quite restrained.

Maybe it's a generational thing, but I imposed -- and received -- far worse. My highers wouldn't have given a complaint the time of day when the discipline was as proportionate to the offense as these two cases seem to be.

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