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Marines recount alleged abuse by DI

Nov. 9, 2007 - 06:59PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 9, 2007 - 06:59PM  |  
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SAN DIEGO — Under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights and the watchful stares of a jury of superiors, young Marines told a military court of abuse they say happened at the hands of their junior drill instructor.

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SAN DIEGO — Under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights and the watchful stares of a jury of superiors, young Marines told a military court of abuse they say happened at the hands of their junior drill instructor.

Choked. Kicked. Slapped. Jabbed in the neck. Punched in the face. Hit on the head with a flashlight.

Bruised and beaten with a tent pole. Ordered to drink two, three, even four canteens of water just minutes after eating dinner, and then lie in their own vomit.

In recounting the actions of their DI, some of the young leathernecks testifying Wednesday at Sgt. Jerrod Glass' general court-martial prefaced what happened to them by explaining that they weren't fast enough, moved too slowly, had lost gear, were confused or unprepared, even looked where they shouldn't have looked.

To prosecutors, Glass' "brutal" actions against nearly every member of recruit training Platoon 2167 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego amounted to abuse and mistreatment, violations of the Corps' standard operating procedures for recruit training. To Glass' defense attorneys, the drill instructor's alleged actions fell short of outright violations and were implicitly known and condoned by his supervisors.

The trial of Glass, a 25-year-old military policeman and two-tour Iraq combat veteran, began Tuesday at the San Diego recruit depot and might last two weeks.

Now a military jury of six men — three officers and three senior staff noncommissioned officers — will decide whether he is guilty of the allegations. If so, the jury would decide if he should be punished in any way, up to 11 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

When he was charged, Glass faced 225 separate counts after an investigation found 110 "factual" incidents. On the trial's eve, both sides and the judge, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Meeks, agreed to consolidate the charges into 10 counts incorporating the gist of the earlier allegations: Two counts of assault, two counts of cruelty and maltreatment, four counts of destroying personal property and two counts of failure to obey a lawful order.

The allegations against Glass, a Phoenix native who was assigned to 2nd Recruit Training Battalion's Hotel Company, and two other members of his DI team, have rocked the recruit depot since the allegations arose in early February.

The lead prosecutor, Capt. Christian Pappas, described how Glass was "a star" at Drill Instructor School, "one of the best students." Glass should have known about the rules, Pappas argued.

"He was taught, he was counseled ... to keep his hands off of recruits, not to jeopardize his career."

Recruit training is guided by a depot order, a voluminous standard operating procedure that dictates just about every facet of boot camp. The rules restrict physical contact that a DI can have with his recruits, and limitations usually hinge on simple corrections or safety situations.

But soon after picking up Platoon 2167 on Dec. 23, 2006, Pappas told the court in opening arguments, Glass "continued to torment and bully" the recruits for nearly two months. "Nearly every member of that 40-man platoon was assaulted, abused, maltreated," he said.

Not so, argued Glass' defense attorneys.

"He was firm. He was demanding — and even exacting — of these recruits because that was his job," Capt. Patrick Callahan argued in his opening statement. "His job was not to be nice ... He did it within the confines of the SOP."

Callahan contended that the sergeant acted on his role as fourth hat — known as the "kill hat" — within the DI team training 2167. Glass "was told: You are the kill hat. This is your responsibility. You need to do whatever you need to do … even if that means violating the recruit training SOP," he argued.

Callahan said that some of the allegations are unsubstantiated, and while others may seem harsh actions, "that does not mean those things are violations of the SOP."

Two other DIs on the team — Sgt. Robert C. Hankins and Sgt. Brian M. Wendel — have refused to testify at Glass' trial. Hankins and Wendel are facing special courts-martial, which carry lesser punishment, on separate charges related to the alleged incidents. A fourth DI, Sgt. Joseph Villagomez, received administrative punishment.

Glass' parents say their son has been made the "scapegoat."

"He did not do anything that he was not instructed to do, was taught to do. It was ordered," said Barbara Glass, who traveled with his father, Jerry Glass, from their Arizona home. "They are prosecuting him for something that occurs daily on the depot."

"It's obviously something that they knew about that was going on," noted Jerry, a retired sheriff's sergeant. Barbara noted the alleged forced hydration was a known practice that even has a name: "Water Bowl" incentive training.

The allegations shocked Glass' parents, who described the worst their son has done as tossing dog poop into a neighbor's yard at age 10.

"What I heard in there I didn't recognize as my son. It does not sound like Jerrod," Barbara said.

Testimony from the former recruits — the entire platoon eventually graduated and all are now Marines — leaves some questions over Glass' actions. Was he a DI who just erupted with anger at times? Did they frustrate him to the point he became uncontrolled?

Or did he, as the defense indicated will argue, act out in the role as his superiors expected, regulations aside?

Defense attorneys offered this side argument: The recruits expected boot camp to be tough, and some rough handling was the norm, but none of Glass' actions amounted to SOP violations.

None of Glass' former recruits reported the alleged abuse until early February, after another DI questioned some of them about one recruit's facial bruises.

Perhaps the worst abuse came when Glass struck one recruit repeatedly over the head with a tent pole after Pvt. Kyle Leonard couldn't open the lock on his footlocker. Glass went into the DI hut several times but returned to berate him and hit him again. Lance Cpl. Sean Miranda-Fitzgerald was one of several recruits who helped Leonard open the footlocker.

"I don't think that people should be hit for something as simple as that," he told the court.

Other recruits testified about the occasional assault or mistreatment they endured from Glass.

Pfc. Michael Baldridge, 20, testified that Glass hit him "about 13 times" with a flashlight before the platoon hiked up "the Reaper" at Camp Pendleton, leaving a bruised eye and scar. "I tried to cover up my head with my arms. I really couldn't get away," he said.

Pfc. James Hammond, 19, said that several times, after they ate pastries in the chow hall, Glass would order them to drink full canteens. "We would continuously drink water until everybody threw up," he said, adding that several times the DI told them to sit down and slide around the vomit-covered floor.

Pfc. David Mainville spoke of nearly a half-dozen alleged assaults by Glass, who jabbed him in the throat, choked him, punched him in the back — "enough to knock the air out of me" — and hit him with a Kevlar helmet and in the head with a flashlight several times, once enough to leave a noticeable scar.

Other recruits downplayed their DI's actions.

Lance Cpl. Robert Sandoval, a former soldier and Iraq veteran, testified that Glass hit him in the head with a flashlight several times during Field Week, and the DI once punched him in the chest while he was on fire watch.

"I guess I wasn't sounding off loud enough," Sandoval testified.

Once, while helping another recruit on a hike at Camp Pendleton, "I guess we were too slow, and Sergeant Glass threw a canteen at my at my bottom lip."

Pfc. Wayne Montgomery characterized physical contact that Glass once had with him as "a slight tap" to his right cheek after he was "slow" getting something out. Montgomery, jittery and nervous on the stand, likened it to "one of the taps my grandmother would give me to hurry up."

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