Articles

Marine drill instructor faces hearing for hazing charges

A senior Marine Corps drill instructor forced a recruit to give up his Facebook password so he could hit on the recruit's sisters and made others complete his college homework, witnesses said in an Article 32 investigative hearing at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, on Thursday.


Recruits hike under the iconic "We Make Marines" sign during the Crucible Aug. 26, 2016, on Parris Island, S.C. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser)

Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke, whose identity was publicly revealed at the hearing for the first time, may face trial on charges including two counts of cruelty and maltreatment; two count of failure to obey an order or regulation; one count each of false official statement, wrongful appropriation, and insubordination; and five counts of general misconduct. Thursday's hearing will determine whether he will go to court-martial or face a lesser form of adjudication.

Four former recruits from Kilo Company, Platoon 3044, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, testified that Burke, an administrative Marine by trade with nearly 10 years of service, frequently called them names including "stupid" and "f----t," among other unprintable expletives, and allowed other drill instructors to do the same.

Related: 3 Marines face charges in Parris Island hazing scandal

Multiple recruits testified that the drill instructors would bring members of the platoon into "the dungeon"-- an unoccupied building with an abandoned squad bay in disrepair and filled with a fine yellow dust. When the recruits were made to conduct incentive training, or strenuous physical exercise designed for correction, they would cough and struggle to breathe as the dust swirled, they said. These sessions, recruits testified, would last from 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

To demonstrate the hazards of the dungeon, military prosecutor Maj. Gregg Curley presented Col. James Bartolotto, the preliminary hearing officer, with a large jar containing a sample of the dust, shaking it to show how easily it became a thick cloud.

Witnesses also testified that Burke recruited self-identified "smart" recruits to come into the drill instructor hut to help him complete his college homework, a non-authorized activity for recruits, as Burke believed he was falling behind.

001rds-usmc-03135copy Appropriate levels of training and stress are very strictly designed by military education personnel. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The allegations against Burke came to light as part of a wide-ranging series of investigations regarding alleged mistreatment of recruits at Parris Island -- a pattern that was found to include abuse that prompted one recruit, Raheel Siddiqui, to take his own life last March.

The alleged misconduct of Burke and a number of other drill instructors in Platoon 3044 was revealed after an anonymous letter from "Concerned loved ones of innocent recruits in Kilo Company" was sent to President Barack Obama in April 2016. In all, 56 recruits and three family members were interviewed as a result of the investigation.

After the investigation was launched, all of the platoon's drill instructors were relieved of their duties and replaced by new ones last summer.

Also accused were Staff Sgts. Matthew Bacchus and Jose Lucena-Martinez, and Sgt. Riley Gress, all of whom face similar charges and are set to be arraigned Friday.

Lance Cpl. Kelvin Cabrera, a reservist with 4th Civil Affairs Group, out of Hialeah, Florida, testified that Burke would force recruits to show him photographs they received from home, sometimes keeping them for himself. After being forced to turn over a family photograph against his will, Cabrera said, he was summoned to the drill instructor hut in April 2016 and told Burke found one of his sisters attractive and wanted him to log onto Facebook so Burke could send messages to her.

When Cabrera refused, he was made to perform burpees, or squat thrusts, until he complied, he said. Bacchus, he said, was also present. After logging on to his Facebook account on Burke's smartphone, Cabrera said the drill instructor expressed interest in another one of his sisters and forced him to call her. Then, Cabrera said, Burke grabbed the phone and tried to ask her out.

"I couldn't explain [to my sister] what was happening," he said. "She told me not to do that again, to call her and give the phone to a random man."

While Burke did not testify in his defense, he said in a recording played for the court that his habit of forcing the recruits to show him their photos was an "inside joke" and he never kept them.

Zachary Mosier, a former recruit who was medically separated from Platoon 3044 as a result of an irregular heartbeat after passing out on three separate occasions during intensive physical training, testified that he had received inconsistent levels of medical attention on these occasions, and, under Burke's oversight, had not been seen by a corpsman or medical professionals on the second occasion.

Also read: Military personnel share amazing one-liners from drill instructors

Another former recruit who left the Marine Corps shortly after boot camp due to injury, Evan Murdoch, said Burke had tried to cover up the first incident in which Mosier passed out, falling flat on his rifle during push-ups in what Murdoch described as "excessive" incentive training, lasting longer than the 15 minutes that is allowed.

"He said, 'Look, that didn't happen today, did it,' hinting that no one should say anything," Murdoch testified.

The commander of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, is expected to make a decision this month on whether to send Burke's case to court-martial.

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

Humor

The truth about cell phones in Basic Training

Thank god you got out when you did! The moment you received your DD-214, it was officially an end of an era. Hopefully, your branch won't fall victim like all those other, weaker branches did. It's Lord of the Flies in here.

New recruits are arriving in droves and they're pulling out their cell phones to record themselves talking back to their drill sergeants. If the drill sergeants have a problem with it, they whip out their stress cards, go back to eating their Tide Pods, and continue listening to their music (which, coincidentally, has gotten progressively worse since your generation, too).

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

5 reasons your troops are more important than promotion

If there's one complaint common across the military, it's that commanders too often care more about their careers than the well-being of their troops. It's problematic when higher-ups are willing to put lower enlisted through hell if it means they look good at the end of the day.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

'Operation Cure Boredom' is a funny, unrepentant look back at life in the 1990s Air Force

The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it's a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin's 1990-1994 enlistment in the world's best Air Force.

This chapter, called "Guest on the Range," is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

The top 6 reasons people decide to join the infantry

Deciding to join the military is a huge step for anyone looking to make a life-altering change. One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a member of the armed forces is the vast array of professional opportunities the service offers.

You can sign up, ship out, and, within a few short months, be guarding a military installation as your newfound brothers- and sisters-in-arms sleep.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

These high-tech glasses could change how sailors train

Training has evolved over the years but the core elements have always remained the same. There's an instructor and a bunch of students. They go over material, both in theory and in practice, mastering the skills required by the job. But no matter how good the teacher, students will always need a refresher from time to time. So, that means it's time to go back to school — or does it?

Now, mixed-reality technology — including smart glasses — could change the way sailors learn the skills they need to serve.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

6 US conflicts that would (probably) make terrible video games

When developers set out to make video games, their focus should always primarily be on crafting a fun and engaging experience. Oftentimes, you'll see video games set far in the future so that developers can place an arsenal of advanced, sci-fi weaponry in the hands of the player — because it's fun. Other times, they'll take cues from real wars and toss the player directly into the heat of a historical battle — because that's fun, too.

Keep reading... Show less
Tactical

How to start a fire with only one hand

Heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip is exhilarating and refreshing. Starting a campfire and roasting some marshmallows under the stars is a great way to get in touch with Mother Nature. Although the idea of spending a night in the great outdoors sounds incredible, campers should always remember to bring specific tools and learn important survival skills in the event they sustain an injury and help is far, far away.

It gets cold out there at night, so it's important to know the basics of starting a fire to keep warm — even in the dire circumstance that you've been injured. Do you know how to start a fire with just one hand? You never know — this skill might just save your life.

Keep reading... Show less