By Jennifer Mattson, NCO JournalSeptember 5, 2012
A gang of U.S. service members in Europe inducts its new members by beating them, and one of the initiations results in a death. In Korea, a staff sergeant initiates new Soldiers by hitting them on the upper legs as they perform pushups. In Iraq, a Soldier suspected of trying to kill himself is found in the latrine and ordered to stand at parade rest for two hours in the sun. At yet another base, a Soldier is chided with racial slurs and decides to take his own life.
Though extreme cases like these may make the headlines, there are other instances that constitute hazing, which continues to occur in the Army despite being against Army and Department of Defense policy. Though many Soldiers do not realize it, hazing includes striking a newly promoted NCO's rank insignia repeatedly, "blood pinnings" and retaliatory "smoke sessions."
AR 600-20, Army Command Policy, includes a definition of hazing. By Army standards, hazing is cruel, abusive, oppressive or harmful behavior that may or may not include physical, emotional or psychological acts and can occur at any function where Soldiers are present.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said the Army has to move away from all forms of hazing, including those that are recognized as traditions during a promotion or pinning ceremony.
"When you do blood stripes or blood wings, those are in fact examples of hazing," Chandler said. "A way to recognize that professionalism or accomplishment that is not hazing would be to have a ceremony that recognizes that accomplishment and recognizes the individual's professionalism by that specific event.
"Things like a spur ride, which are intended to show camaraderie, enhance the profession and recognize the history of the organization -- those are not hazing events," Chandler said. "The difference is that you aren't doing cruel, abusive, oppressive or harmful activities. That's a very significant difference. When you pierce someone's skin, in any manner, that is without a doubt an example of hazing."
Chandler acknowledged that, in the past, hazing was condoned by commanders and NCOs. But he said the Army is moving away from that. Secretary of the Army Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey developed a task force earlier this year to take a look at the policy, training and culture in order to make recommendations about any needed changes, Chandler said.
"There was a time and place where what we now consider hazing was accepted in our Army," Chandler said. "We need to learn from that, and part of our responsibility now is to treat everybody with dignity and respect and to be professionals."
Changing the tradition of hazing
Hazing, in all of its forms, needs to be eradicated from the Army, as it is incompatible with Army values, tradition and leadership, Chandler said.
"Hazing can be something as simple as a gantlet, where you may have a Soldier who has been recognized for something outstanding or been promoted," Chandler said. "His platoon would line up on either side of him, and then he would walk down the middle and be punched in the shoulder as hard as they could. That's an example of hazing.
"It could be anything as simple as that to forcing someone to lie on the ground doing flutter kicks until whoever has ordered him to do that tells him to recover. Minor forms of correction are acceptable. But when it's excessive, that's when it becomes hazing."
Sgt. Maj. Ralph L. Phillips wrote an ethics paper on hazing in the Army in 2008 while a Sergeants Major Course student at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. In the paper, he discussed some of the ethical implications of having to stop certain types of hazing that he himself had witnessed.
In one such instance, Phillips recounted when a Soldier was promoted to sergeant. The first sergeant of the unit had all of the NCOs in the unit line up and take their turn at striking the new NCO. The hitting became a competition among the 40 NCOs to see who could hit the new NCO the hardest. No one stopped the process; however, a few NCOs chose not to hit the Soldier as forcefully, seeing that he was already in pain. To stop that type of behavior, Phillips ensured that all his junior Soldiers knew that striking a Soldier was never acceptable.
"Before a promotion ceremony and advancing a Soldier to the next grade, the first sergeant should state that striking or punching the new rank of the Soldier is, by definition, hazing," Phillips wrote. "If Soldiers hear this at every monthly promotion ceremony, then we are using effective leadership, enforcing standards and teaching what right looks like."
All NCOs need to understand Army policy and uphold it as their standard in their units, Phillips said.
"NCOs are the standard-bearers, and when [they are] trained properly and led properly, standards will always be enforced," Phillips said. "There are many leaders around today who [witnessed] one form or another of traditional (nonharmful) or nontraditional (harmful) hazing. It is simply a fact that our leaders before us did not fully enforce the official policy on hazing and, thus, did not show the force 'what right looks like.'
"Those days are past, and as our Army moves forward today, NCOs are being trained properly on the Army's policy on hazing and understand there is no tolerance," he said. "The hazing policy is effectively being enforced today through effective leadership. When violations do occur, those responsible will be reported, and the chain of command will take the appropriate action."
DoD condemns hazing for all branches
Hazing is not tolerated among any of the services, said Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Panetta and Dempsey take the issue of hazing very seriously and travel to DoD bases to speak about the military as a profession, Battaglia said. The NCO Corps is uniquely positioned to address the issue of hazing, he added.
"The majority of incidents where hazing takes place are probably in the enlisted force, only because the numbers of our enlisted are so much larger. But when a hazing incident -- albeit isolated -- may occur, there's probably an NCO or petty officer who has either indirect knowledge or is not too far away," Battaglia said. "We have to instill in our young leaders that when they see, witness, hear or experience any inkling of hazing taking place, they immediately step in."
It is the responsibility of noncommissioned officers to hold their troops accountable and speak out when they witness acts of hazing, Battaglia said.
"We want our leaders to learn from what happened and to educate their subordinates that the treatment of their men and women is all about dignity and respect," Battaglia said. "If we say our most important asset is our young men and women, then we must practice what we preach. If we don't, then the noncommissioned officer has become part of the problem."
Hazing can include acts of initiation, physical abuse or psychological abuse, Battaglia said. An example of psychological abuse may be a leader approving a young service member's leave request only to cancel it at the last minute. This can inflict psychological harm on a young troop, Battaglia said.
"These unethical and illegal acts are not going to be tolerated in our Armed Forces," Battaglia said. "There are ways to celebrate with our young men and women and recognize the accomplishments of those who exceed and meet the standard, and we're going to remain respectful and smart about how we execute those celebratory events."
How hazing starts
Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Alaska, said hazing can start when junior noncommissioned officers mimic hazing behaviors that they themselves experienced.
"In most cases when you find hazing, you have an NCO in charge of it, and he has followers," Knight said. "Soldiers follow their leaders, their noncommissioned officers. Sometimes an NCO is really good in combat, in training. But then these Soldiers follow him though he has a flaw and wants to go and haze a Soldier. A lot of times a Soldier will go along with it because they haven't been in the Army long enough to fully develop our values, or they're scared themselves. That's how it starts."
Knight said the way to stop hazing at the unit level is to build pride in the unit and cohesion as a team.
"Building esprit de corps at the platoon and squad level will stop this behavior," Knight said. "It all has to be about growth, not about demoralizing Soldiers. All service members are duty-bound to report hazing."
When platoon or squad leadership fails, it's up to senior leaders to point out what right looks like and to hold those conducting hazing activities accountable, Knight said.
"We have the Uniform Code of Military Justice that will hold folks accountable who have committed such acts," Knight said. "It's important that leaders catch it and apply the appropriate action or punishment deserving of the offense."
Creating a professional environment
At U.S. Army Alaska, the command group uses resources from the Center for Army Profession and Ethic to conduct scenario-based training as well as develop guidelines for their junior noncommissioned officers to train on how to identify and combat hazing, Knight said.
The Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, headquartered at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., proactively seeks to develop the character of all Army leaders.
Sgt. Maj. David L. Stewart, the senior enlisted advisor for CAPE, said his organization is focused on the Army as a profession and what it means to be a professional. New emerging doctrine lists the five essential characteristics of the Army profession as trust, military expertise, honorable service, esprit de corps and stewardship of the profession. It is that first characteristic -- trust -- that NCOs need to focus on the most to combat hazing, Stewart said.
"Trust is the bedrock of our profession," Stewart said. "If we cannot stop hazing each other, bullying each other or calling each other names, then how can we trust each other as an organization?"
CAPE produces virtual training, online videos and case scenarios to help Soldiers understand the Army as a profession. The lessons can be accessed at http://cape.army.mil. In addition, CAPE is rolling out a Master Army Profession Ethics Trainer course, in which commanders can designate sergeants first class or above to assist them by holding character development training for a unit.
CAPE is designed to foster an Army environment that exhibits and respects professionalism, Stewart said. Part of that mission includes updating doctrine, training and policy. It also means helping leaders implement changes in the unit's culture to make hazing as unacceptable as stealing in the barracks is, Stewart said, citing a recent analogy made by the SMA.
"People who commit hazing are kind of like a barracks thief," Stewart said. "They steal something as precious to the Army as the trust of our subordinates and our leaders. [They violate] one of our core values -- stealing respect from us. That person should be [removed from the ranks] much like a barracks thief."
Stopping hazing is vital for unit morale and for accomplishing the mission downrange, Stewart said.
"We rely on trust and respect as a profession to operate in the rigors of combat," Stewart said. "If we can't squelch these things, then we're obviously going to have problems with people trusting our leaders and with trust between Soldiers. That affects the mission downrange."