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Marines Kick Out 15 Troops in West Coast Hazing Crackdown

Marines and Sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 5, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group participate in a seven mile conditioning hike on Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 27, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)
Marines and Sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 5, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group participate in a seven mile conditioning hike on Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 27, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)

At least 15 Marines have been forced out of the service since June in connection with hazing allegations, while another has received punishment at court-martial, a Marine Corps official confirmed Wednesday.

1st Lt. Paul Gainey, a spokesman for 1st Marine Corps Division, out of Camp Pendleton, California, told Military.com that 15 Marines were administratively separated and one convicted at special court-martial of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- failure to obey an order or regulation.

The units to which accused Marines belonged include 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, both based at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California; and 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, based at Camp Pendleton, said Phil Stackhouse, an attorney who, with his wife Renee, has represented three Marines accused of hazing.

All of the cases have been adjudicated since the arrival of a new commander for 1st Marine Division, Brig. Gen. Eric Smith, on June 23.

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"It was a problem that [Smith] saw when he arrived," Gainey said. "There were three allegations of hazing when he got on deck. I think he saw it right away."

The separations were first detailed Wednesday in a Marine Corps Times report that revealed Smith had written in July to all commanders and senior enlisted advisers within the 1st Marine Division, calling the problem his primary focus and resolving to root out hazing within the division.

"I'm not here to inflict group punishment, but my assessment is that I've just been flipped the bird by lots of lance corporals, so I am headed their way to demonstrate this is an unwise [course of action]," Smith reportedly wrote in an email obtained by Marine Corps Times.

Smith also reportedly stated in the email that the alleged hazing incidents had extended to physical assault, making Marines drink alcohol against their will, and forced haircuts, according to the report.

In a guidance to the entire 1st Marine Division published Aug. 30 and reviewed by Military.com, Smith discussed his dramatic steps to reduce hazing during his short tenure in command.

He said seven separate allegations of hazing had been reported within the division within days of his taking command.

"As I have stated before, hazing threatens the strength of our small units and directly impacts our combat readiness," he wrote. "Hazing, much like drug abuse, sexual assault and other criminal misconduct, is not acceptable."

Moreover, Smith said in his policy guidance, the volume of hazing reports over a short period indicated to him that units were to blame for lax supervision or outright condonement of the unlawful behavior.

On this front, he said, the unit had since made progress, with increased supervisory presence in the barracks and "heightened vigilance."

Smith acknowledged the potential that his decision to address the issue of hazing so directly could affect cases that went to court-martial in connection with the issue.

"I have a strong personality and am in a position of authority, so I am obligated to ensure that none of you interpret my message against hazing as directing any specific outcome for any particular case," he said. "More important than my desire to stamp out hazing is our collective requirement to adhere to our constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

In fact, Gainey said, the issue of unlawful command influence -- a term in the military referring to commanders' actions that purport to influence military justice -- has already been raised in connection to these cases.

In a case involving a corporal accused of hazing, a judge decided Aug. 21 that earlier guidance from Smith to the unit "created an appearance" of UCI, Gainey said.

To resolve the issue, the judge granted the defense team for the accused additional jury member challenges, Gainey said.

At the conclusion of the case, he said, the corporal was convicted of hazing and assault. According to court documents, the sentence was 14 days' restriction and demotion by two ranks to private first class.

A number of cases are ongoing. In all, 30 Marines were thrown in the brig to await adjudication after being accused of hazing, Stackhouse said.

He said accusations included "incentive training" workouts, excessive forced cleaning of barracks spaces, a "blood stripes" process in which Marines were kicked when being pinned with new rank, and hair "barracks cuts," among other activities.

Stackhouse said commanders are able to rapidly discharge Marines administratively with a notification process that gives accused troops only the opportunity to respond in writing, at which point a commander can decide whether to separate them.

If the Marine is sent to a board, that board considers evidence and then, if it determines misconduct occurred, can opt to hand down a discharge.

As long as the discharge is not characterized as Other Than Honorable, Stackhouse said, the case does not need to be sent to a board.

"The notification process essentially eviscerates due process," he said.

For Marines, a general discharge means forfeiture of GI Bill education benefits.

Stackhouse said he believes for many, including his clients -- whom he characterized as "outstanding Marines," the administrative process yields a harsher outcome than a court-martial might.

"These are first-tour Marines who have leadership positions, who may have been led astray by their immediate seniors," he said. "It's disappointing that their command is not giving these guys a second chance when you're dealing with relatively minor misconduct."

One case, that of Lance Cpl. Chaz Hurd, a member of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, began Tuesday and is currently ongoing aboard 29 Palms.

Hurd is accused of cruelty and maltreatment, assault, general misconduct and failure to obey an order or regulation.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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