Abuse: A Culture of Competing Values
Parris Island Training Pool in the spring of 2004, I stood by the poolside
waiting to get in my hour swim. As a
retired Navy Chaplain, I kept my usual training discipline. As I waited, I watched a group of Marines in
Instructor Water Survival Training. There
were eight to ten swimmers in the water, and about as many instructors. Whistles were blowing. An electronic horn was blaring. Instructors were yelling at the young Marines
who were trying to qualify for instructor duty.
The training followed standard operating procedures of the swimmer in
battle dress uniform going through a series of exercises with loud and
confusing distractions occurring in the process. The objective for the swimmer was to keenly
focus on completing the process. One
Marine on the other side of the pool instantly drew my attention. He was receiving excessive attention from two
swim instructors. The instructors were
down on their knees at poolside screaming at the young swimmer. He struggled to stay afloat in his cammies,
helmet, and flak vest. Exhausted, he
made his way to the side of the pool where he slowly climbed onto the
deck. While the Marine sat, the
instructors screamed at each side of his head telling him to get back in the
water. It appeared intentional and a
noticeable deviation from the others in training. After a couple of minutes they pushed the browbeaten
and still exhausted Marine back into the water.
He struggled to stay afloat. Then
with considerable effort he swam to the side of the pool. Slowly, he climbed out the pool and fell on
to the deck. Again, the two swim
instructors screamed for him to get in the water. At the same time, they were pulling the
shoulders of his flak vest up to keep him sitting. The Marine swimmer was listless. After getting little response, the
instructors dragged him along the side of the pool, around the corner, and in
front of the concrete bleachers. As one
instructor supported the by-now non-responsive Marine, the other straddled him
and repeatedly slapped his face. It
appeared the Marine was in physical distress.
Hitting him didn’t appear to be the right thing to do. They seemed to be oblivious to his condition.
this point, I rushed to the end of the pool.
“Stop hitting this Marine! If you hit him one more time, you are going
on report.” The senior instructor jumped
into my face and yelled, “It is none of your business. Stay out of it. You don’t know what you are seeing or what is
going on.” I responded, “You call me
‘Sir’.” Immediately, the Officer in
Charge of the pool jumped up to address me.
He explained, “The Marine was unconscious. We were trying to take care
of him. Sir, I am in charge and I will take care of the problem.”
Unimpressed, I responded: “I was Regimental
Chaplain and Support Battalion Chaplain.
I swam with the instructors and have observed swim training for five
years. I am familiar with standard
operating procedure. What I witnessed
does not comply.”
time, the swimmer was once again responding.
He told me, “Sir, its okay, I’m alright.” The Officer in Charge said, “I’ll take care
of him.” I went on about my hour swim.
finishing my swim, I went to the Battalion Commander’s office to report the
abuse. Before I could speak, he blurted
to, “Tom, you almost got one of my Marines drowned by interfering with the
training. My pool staff had to save his
life.” Obviously the Officer in Charge
had already reached the Battalion Commander.
In an attempted cover-up, he had falsified the details.
indignant and proceeded to tell him what I had seen and heard. I asked, “If the Marine was unconscious,
isn’t it standard operating procedure to call 911?” The Battalion Commander didn’t answer, but
assured me he would deal with the problem.
incident in the PI pool is memorable because of the risk it posed for the
Marine, but also because of the questions it raises. If the leadership would do this to a Marine,
what would keep them from doing the same, or worse, to a vulnerable
Recruit? Further, what generates the
culture in the Marine Corps that permits and then covers-up such abuse?
the Marine Corps is reflecting on what went wrong for Recruit Jason Tharpe, who
drowned in February of this year. In a
separate incident the day before his drowning, television station WIS of
Columbia, SC video taped a Drill Instructor inappropriately admonishing the
Recruit Tharpe. Fundamentally, there was
a moral breakdown among those charged with the responsibility of others under
my time as Regimental Chaplain from 1999 to 2001, there was systemic Drill Instructor
abuse of Recruits in one battalion. For
example, after lunch Recruits were made to drink water until they vomited. Then they were made to do pushups in their
own vomit. To take another example,
after showering, Recruits were lined up penis to buttocks single file. The Regimental Commander, Sergeant Major, and
I worked with the Battalion Commander to eradicate the abuse. The heart of the problem, we discovered, was
blind loyalty of Drill Instructors to each other. They stubbornly remained silent in the face
of abuse. However, the structure of Drill
Instructor collective secrecy sets itself up for its own demise (Bok 1989). After successfully penetrating the wall of
silence, and assuring protection for victimized Recruits, we brought the rogue
Drill Instructors to justice by way of the military court-marital system. At the direction of the Regimental Commander,
I developed a brief entitled “Drill Instructor Integrity Check.” He and I addressed every Drill Instructor and
Officer in the Regiment. We stressed the
integrity that each Marine leader is sworn to uphold. We emphasized that leadership carries moral
accountability, as well as professional consequences.
As part of my Regimental Chaplain responsibilities,
I introduced to the Drill Instructor School a basic ethics course that included
a moral decision making model. The model
collected the facts, determined the values the event was to be measured by,
making a moral values decision, and reviewing for it to be the right thing to
do. In the course, Drill Instructors
would analyze the ethics of case studies taken from actual events at
my tenure at
Core values classes were introduced to
Recruit Training curricula in the mid-1990’s.
This occurred because of an apparent need to address the moral void created
by the culture from which Recruits were coming. Young Americans were coming into the Marine
Corps with a lack of moral direction and with an inability to make solid moral
and discipline form an integral role in reducing the new Recruit to a vulnerable
state, and then rebuilding the person into a Marine capable of maintaining
national security. However, it is in this
context that Drill Instructors must exhibit integrity and trust if they are to
produce the desired outcome. As
Regimental Chaplain, I witnessed young men and women being transformed into
persons with a sense of self-worth, dignity, and a vision for the future. Many Recruits come to
asked a Drill Instructor, “Why is it that a few Drill Instructor’s abuse
Recruits?” He responded, “Sir, it is
considered a right of passage to hit a Recruit or abuse a Recruit. You are not considered a real DI unless you
use some type of abusive means. It’s a
are four identifiable interlocking contributors to the corrosive and
obstructive moral deficit I have been discussing. Examining them will better explain the
dynamics associated with defaulting on moral leadership. It will also point to how the problem might
be effectively addressed.
first is power. From the Recruit’s standpoint, the Drill
Instructor is ‘god’—all powerful, all knowing, upon whom the Recruit is
dependent. The DI creates an atmosphere
of “panopticon.” Panopticon is
philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s principle of creating an
environment in which, in order to control a person’s behavior, he or she is
made to believe they are always being watched (Foucault 1980). The Drill Instructor is there to control the Recruit’s
every movement and action.
be effective in accomplishing the training objectives, such power must be
balanced with trust. In some indigenous
cultures, there are individuals who seek to impose abusive power out of their
own dysfunction or narcissistic motives.
When this is applied to the USMC, those who come from an abusive
background now feel empowered to do the same to Recruits. They lack the intrinsic values of self
respect and dignity for their fellow human beings. As a leader, it is important to be cognizant
of behavior that demonstrates the propensity to go over the edge (Creely
young people grow up without the ability to
set boundaries. Our American culture
reflects an attitude in which boundaries are arbitrary. If young people do not have the ability to
set boundaries, there will be an injudicious use
of power. Boundaries enable a person to
maintain control over their own actions with thought and reflection and control
of self-serving desires. A lack of
boundaries between people leads to unhealthy relationships. Once a Drill Instructor touches a Recruit
inappropriately, he or she forfeits his or her legitimate power. Boundaries are the early warning system not to
go beyond defensible moral limits.
Not having emotional intelligence is
the third reason for poor leadership
skills that lead to abuse. A crisis in leadership results when emotions control
the Drill Instructor instead of the Drill Instructor controlling his or her emotions. A leader’s
consistently negative emotions permeate an organization. “Low levels of emotional intelligence create
climates rife with fear and anxiety”(Goleman, Boyatizis, and McKee 2001). Self-awareness and self-management skills are
crucial for motivating Recruits to become part of a high performance team. Strict Marine Corps discipline is not a
substitute for emotional intelligence. One must first learn to lead oneself before
attempting to lead others.
having a framework for moral decision
making is fourth. Growing up and
living in a society with conflicting values plays havoc with moral
reasoning. Peer pressure, group think,
and personal agendas override the virtue of character if it is not
reinforced. Having a moral basis upon
which to determine right and wrong behavior, and from which to question motives,
provide for sound leadership. Ethics are
prescriptive to life events. Drill
Instructors who utilize a solid framework for making moral decisions will exhibit
behavior that fortifies the Marine Corps values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.
A Marine accepts an awesome responsibility to
live up to the Drill Instructor’s Creed which is recited at Drill Instructor
school graduation and the leadership introduction to every new platoon of
Recruits. The Drill Instructor’s Creed
These are my recruits. I will train them to the best of my
ability. I will develop them into
smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained Marines, thoroughly
indoctrinated in love of Corps and country.
I will demand of them, and demonstrate by my own example, the highest
standards of personal conduct, morality, and professional skill. (www.usmcpress.com/heritage/usmc)
job of training Recruits is hard and rewarding work for Drill Instructors and
Officers. In light of recent events, it
should be clear that unrelenting efforts must be made to provide moral
instruction that fosters professionalism in all aspects of Recruit
Training. We must be reminded that the
seeds of failure can lie in the technique of training itself (Ellul 1964). An unblinking vigilance must be maintained
for ethical leadership. I have listed
four recommendations that will make for better Drill Instructors:
Better screening of Drill Instructor
Candidates for personality and psychological traits. Being proactive would eliminate those not
suited for the job of Drill Instructor.
Well developed ethical leadership
education for Drill Instructors and Officers that provides a moral framework. Ethical training ought to be commensurate
with the responsibility —
increasingly complex ethical training along the career path.
Access to counseling without
repercussions and personal development opportunities. The fear and stigma of counseling inhibits
Drill Instructors from appropriate help that enable them to do their job
A back to basics approach to being a
Marine. Adjusting the moral compass to
true North sets the Marine Corps on a path that reinforces the Warrior Ethos
is a valuable commodity. Its judicious
use provides for optimum outcomes for Recruits.
Power, correctly applied, brings out the best in men and women who serve
us. Above all, the principle of dignity
must be applied in order to protect young men and women from harm (Ignatieff
2004). In such a vast and complex regimen
such as Recruit Training, it is not uncommon to loose sight of personhood and
the dignity that ought to be afforded to our fellow man and woman. Thousands pass through
pool incident, I hope the Battalion Commander took disciplinary action against the
Officer in Charge and Senior Enlisted Marines.
I would hate to think that a lack of ethical leadership would have
reinforced systemic abuse that could have led to a Recruit’s drowning a few
months later. Ethical leadership is the
foundation of building a moral military force to encounter the immoral
terrorists that proclaim self-righteous motives for their actions. To properly fight the Global War on
Terrorism, in which the rules are not always clearly defined, military leaders
must reinforce and strengthen the morals and ideals of those trained as
warriors to prevent their becoming like the terrorist they confront or leading
to another Abu Ghraib situation (Yi 2004).
Ongoing character development is essential for a viable Warrior Ethos. For nearly 229 years, the Marine Corps has
valiantly defended our nation with sound moral values. As a Navy Chaplain to Marines, I am proud to
have served along their side. With the
recent events of abuse and the unnecessary death of Recruit Tharp, this is a
time of soul searching for the Corps to raise the moral bar.
This article is copyrighted and no part may be copied or
used in any form without the expressed consent of the author.
Tom Creely, a retired Navy Chaplain, is adjunct faculty at
1989. Secrets: On the Ethics of
Creely, Tom. Notes on
the subject of Abu Ghraib and
Torture given at Hilton Head Ethics
Ellul, Jacques. 1964.
1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected
Interviews & Other Writings 1972 –
1977, Colin Gordon,
Goleman, Daniel, Richard Boyatizis, and Annie McKee. 2002.
Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power
2004. The Lesser Evil: Political
Ethics in an Age of Terror.
Radest, Howard, Professor Emeritus. 2005. Interviewed by
The Drill Instructor’s Creed is located at
Truesdale, Al, Professor Emeritus. 2005.
Yi, Captain Jamison, USMC. 2004. MCMAP and the Marine
Warrior Ethos. Military