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Pentagon Leaders Outraged by Hazing

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 1997 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said he is "disturbed and disgusted" by Marine hazing incidents reported in recent news broadcasts.

"Abuse such as this has no place in any branch of the United States military," Cohen said at a Pentagon press conference Jan. 31. "Those who indulge or engage in this activity will pay the consequences." Strongly condemning all forms of unacceptable behavior, Cohen said, he intends to enforce a strict policy of zero tolerance of hazing, sexual harassment and racism.

NBC's Dateline aired home videotapes network officials purchased from a former Marine who requested anonymity. The tapes showed secret 1991 and 1993 "blood pinning" initiation rites at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The film showed about 30 jump-qualified Marines taking turns grinding and pounding the half-inch-long posts of "Gold Wing" pins into the bloody chests of newly qualified Marines up against a wall. Marines earn the wings after 10 successful parachute jumps.

The victims, shown screaming, wincing and squirming in pain, tried to pull away as blood seeped through their T-shirts. The Dateline reporter said NCOs and at least one officer attended the initiation, which lasted more than half an hour.

Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak also strongly condemned the incidents broadcast on CNN and NBC's Dateline.

"I am outraged that Marines would participate in such disgusting behavior," Krulak said. "There is absolutely no excuse for this type of behavior."

Marine Corps officials are investigating the incidents. Most of the Marines videotaped have been identified; nine are still on active duty, officials said. Active duty Marines will be brought back to Camp LeJeune, and those found guilty of misconduct will be held accountable, officials said.

Hazing is forbidden in the Marine Corps, but it remains an insidious problem because it is secretive and often voluntary, officials said. In the past few years, the Corps has court martialed 52 Marines and given another 34 nonjudicial punishment for hazing and participating in improper initiations.

While Marine Corps training generates enthusiasm for the capacity to endure pain and suffering to show how tough one can be, commanders must make sure the instilling of that pride doesn't cross the line, Cohen said.

"People get very charged up in this business," Shalikashvili said. "We demand people who are tough and who can stand up to adversity. We, therefore, more than any other segment of society, have to watch their behavior much more closely."

No one should expect 100 percent success when trying to change human behavior, Shalikashvili said. "But we can demand 100 percent success [ensuring] leaders understand the standards and take appropriate action when those standards are violated. In this case, it is clear some leaders were involved and did not take the right steps. That's what's particularly bothersome about this incident."

Krulak said he is committed to ridding the Corps of such "heinous behavior" and to ensuring Marines treat each other with dignity, care and concern. "I simply will not tolerate abhorrent behavior by Marines," he said.

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