Two lawmakers say they are reassured the Marine Corps is working to enact policies to root out hazing after a recruit's tragic suicide brought public attention to a pattern of mistreatment and abuse by drill instructors within his battalion.
Reps. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, and Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, traveled to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, over the weekend to meet with the depot's commander, Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, about the findings of three command investigations into the death of 20-year-old Muslim recruit Raheel Siddiqui and other allegations of hazing.
Renforth, an infantry officer, took command of the base in June, after three senior leaders had been fired and 15 drill instructors sidelined in connection with the hazing probes.
The iconic "We Make Marines" sign at Parris Island. | US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser
In a joint announcement Wednesday, Dingell and Issa expressed horror at the findings of the investigation, but optimism that the Corps was moving in the right direction.
"This weekend's visit was an opportunity to see firsthand the changes that are being implemented to achieve this goal. After meeting with General Renforth and talking with other key members of leadership, drill instructors, and recruits, it is clear that the Marine Corps is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves," Dingell said in a statement.
"General Renforth has assured me this is personal to him and he is committed to working towards real change to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the future," she added.
Dingell, who has the Siddiqui family in her district and has pressed the Marine Corps for information since his March 18 death, said the immediate changes the service had implemented -- including automatically suspending staff who are being investigated for hazing and increasing officer oversight of drill instructors -- provided evidence of Renforth's dedication to eradicate the problems.
"This is just a first step and continued monitoring in the weeks and months ahead will be necessary to ensure these policies have their intended effect," she said.
Issa, whose district includes the Marine Corps' West Coast recruit depot in San Diego, called the findings surrounding Siddiqui's death "nothing short of heartbreaking."
"Beyond training procedures and safeguards, we must do more to prevent active-duty personnel suicide overall," he said in a statement. "Statistics released earlier this year show the number of service members committing suicide remains unacceptably high while reserve suicide rates have increased."
I remain committed to assisting our Marines and all of our services in working to provide all the support they need," he added.
The results of the three command investigations, reviewed by Military.com on Sept. 8, revealed that the drill instructor whose abuse and harassment of Siddiqui provided "impetus" for the recruit's death had been previously investigated for hazing another Muslim recruit by throwing him in a clothes dryer and calling him a "terrorist."
The probes revealed a culture of hazing within 3rd Recruit Training Battalion that stretched back at least as far as 2015 and was only curtailed after a recruit's family wrote a letter to President Barack Obama in April, a month after Siddiqui's death.