Applying Icy Hot to genitals and “ritual” beatings were repeated hazing practices in the Marine Corps’ Silent Drill Platoon, according to a redacted report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The four-month investigation into the iconic unit led to at least five Marines receiving administrative punishment, Marine Corps Times previously reported, but the report, acquired through a Freedom of information Act request, sheds light on how systemic the hazing was.
The 24-member Silent Drill Platoon is one of the most recognizable units in the Marine Corps, tasked with conducting close order drill with no voiced commands. The team has impressed crowds around the nation with live shows and appearances on Marine Corps recruiting commercials, creating a mystique around the platoon and cementing its legacy as an “elite” unit.
But the unit’s dark side was revealed in the investigative report. All names and ranks were redacted in the copy provided to Marine Corps Times.
The NCIS investigation ended when the five Marine ”ring leaders” received nonjudicial punishments, or NJP.
Three Marines pleaded guilty to Article 81 conspiracy and Article 92 failure to obey a lawful order or regulation, Sgt. Maj. Matthew Hackett, the sergeant major for the D.C. barracks at the time of the hazing incident, has said previously. The commanding officer sentenced them to reductions in rank, 60 days restriction, and forfeiture of half of their pay for two months, with one month suspended.
The other two Marines pleaded guilty to a failure to obey an order and Article 134, a catch-all article that covers all conduct that could bring discredit upon the armed forces. They received a reduction in rank, 45 days of restriction, 45 days of extra duty, and forfeiture of half their pay for two months, with one month suspended.
’We don’t rate’
The NCIS investigation began after an Oct. 31, 2018, hazing awareness class in which command leadership first learned of a potential hazing incident, the investigation says.
The class was part of the unit’s routine training, with leadership discussing the definition of hazing and reiterating that hazing has no place in the Marine Corps. After the class, one Marine told his unit’s leadership that he may have witnessed a hazing incident, the investigation shows.
The unit’s leadership was interviewing a Marine about the allegation two days later when that Marine received a Snapchat video showing three Marines “choking and beating" another platoon member. After reviewing the video the Marine leading the investigation decided to send his findings to NCIS to take over the investigation.
Two other Marines had recorded the event and posted the videos to a Snapchat group called “we don’t rate,” whose members were all in their first year with the platoon, investigation documents said.
The Marines allegedly followed him into his barracks room uninvited, the victim said. The three Marines told him “happy birthday” then started to hit him in the legs while others recorded it, NCIS documents show.
Though the Marine who was attacked said he did not know of any other hazing incidents, more interviews by NCIS investigators revealed repeated stories of Marines having Icy Hot smeared on their genitals, being beaten with a practice rifle and accounts of an “initiation ritual” where all new members of the platoon were attacked shortly after graduation.
“Within the first two weeks”
One Marine ― who admitted to investigators that he was both a victim of and participant in several incidents ― said hazing began “within the first two weeks” of a Marine joining the storied platoon.
Another Marine recalled an event that happened shortly after he joined the platoon. Senior members surrounded him and other newly graduated members in a “horseshoe shape” as they exited the fifth floor elevator.
Some of the platoon members were celebrating and cheering, then others allegedly grabbed him and started to beat him and the other new members, the investigation said.
“It’s a tradition and a celebration type thing,” he told investigators, before admitting that he participated in the event his second year with the platoon, assisting in hitting “one or two” Marines before getting bored, the documents said.
Similar beatings took place at all major life events, like birthdays and marriages, one Marine told investigators.
“No one thinks of it as harm,” he said, according to the documents.
Several Marines told investigators that practice rifles were used as paddles during these type of beatings.
One Marine said he did not consent to the alleged beating that happened to him shortly after he joined the platoon. A group of Marines pinned him to the ground face first in his barracks rooms, he told investigators.
While some Marines were allegedly punching him in the ribs and thighs, others pulled his pants down and “forcefully” struck his buttocks with a practice rifle roughly eight times, the report said.
He told investigators that he felt pain for about an hour after the attack, but that his buttocks remained red for one week.
The same Marine told investigators that he was beaten a few months later for entering the “strong side” of the barracks, where the senior members of the platoon lived.
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Another Marine, allegedly lured to another’s barracks room to sign papers, was assaulted by several Marines, who allegedly used a taser on him to help bring him down while the attackers smeared Icy Hot on his genitals, the investigation said.
The Marine told investigators that as soon as he walked into the room, the door was shut behind him and he was thrown onto the bed, had a taser used on him and placed in a choke hold.
He then tried to fight the Marines attacking him, but to no avail. As soon as they were done, he was let go and allowed to leave, the investigation said.
He was the only Marine in the investigation who had a taser used on him, but the report included accounts from other Marines alleging they were attacked and pinned down. The report noted unconfirmed rumors of Marines in the past having edge dressing — a type of polish used to touch up the edge of black leather or Corfam shoes — applied to their genitals.
At least three Marines told investigators they were victims of Icy Hot attacks. Witnesses told investigators of several other Marines who were similarly attacked, but those Marines denied being victims when interviewed by NCIS.
The ploy of inviting junior Marines into a room to complete paperwork or have a beer was used multiple times, the report showed.
‘He knew there was no beer’
One Marine interviewed told investigators that roughly two months before the investigation started, while the platoon was staying at a hotel, he received a text asking him to go to another Marine’s room for some beers.
The Marine did not remember who texted or whose hotel room he visited: He did remember that as soon as he walked into the room he was grabbed, put into a headlock and punched by two or three other Marines roughly 20 times for one or two minutes before he was let go and left the room, according to the investigation.
In a handwritten confession, a Marine overlooking the hazing described an incident in which one of the new members of the platoon was invited to beer in the barracks.
The Marine victim “was scared because he knew there was no beer” and the Marines inviting him “were trying to get him inside the room so they could beat him,” his confession said.
“He knew deep down inside there was no beer, but he finally budged and went,” the perpetrator told investigators.
The Marine soon returned “watery eyed,” and told others about how he was swarmed as soon as he walked into the barracks, was pinned down and beaten.
Several Marines said the platoon’s leadership had no idea about the hazing and they remarked on how well they kept all the events hidden, according to the report.
After the allegations came to light, Hackett told Marine Corps Times he was dedicated to eradicating hazing from the unit.
Leaders are combating hazing by increasing classes, making those classes more “personal and teaching Marines in the platoon to be humble,” Hackett said.
"You have the honor, dignity and respect to be part of a unit that’s been handed to you and given to you,” he said. “But you don’t own it.”