MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The Marine Corps is adding more supervisors to boot camp in the wake of explosive allegations that abuse may have contributed to a recruit's suicide at the service's most storied training ground.
The Corps is sending more captains and second-tour drill instructors to its two recruit depots, which have been under intense scrutiny after the March death of Recruit Raheel Siddiqui at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.
"We have added additional company grade officers down to the recruit depots to provide additional supervision," Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis, the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said in an interview. "We've sent some drill instructors who have served on the drill field successfully previously for a second tour, volunteers, to go down to the drill field."
Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Muslim recruit, fell down a 40-foot stairwell to his death five days after reporting suicidal thoughts. A command investigation concluded officials should have removed him from training after he threatened to kill himself. The investigation also determined that drill instructors in Siddiqui’s training battalion frequently choked and slapped recruits and that one of them had been investigated for allegedly hazing a Muslim recruit in 2015.
As head of the Corps’ manpower and reserve affairs, Brilakis oversees the screening and assignment of DI candidates but not their 10-week training course once selected. In the interview Wednesday, he said the service is not re-examining its eligibility requirements for DI, one of the Corps’ five special duty assignments that require additional vetting.
"How we find an individual Marine based on those 24 elements of the screening is standard. It’s standard stuff for all five SDAs — it’s pretty much the standard stuff we evaluate Marines on every day. And so we identify individuals that have the intellect, physical capacity, etc., background — and provide a population of individuals that have shown themselves to be successful, whether it’s recruiter school, drill instructor school, etc."
"I think the issue at Parris Island is something that has occurred and we’re going to deal with it institutionally," Brilakis added. "We’ve got a patient that’s sick, but — we’re going to survive as far that goes."
As many as 20 Marines face discipline or legal proceedings in the scandal, but none have been criminally charged as of early November.
Parris Island and MCRD San Diego have made immediate changes to recruit training, a MCRD San Diego spokesman said.
"One of those changes is an increase in officer supervision in the form of assistant series commanders for all newly forming training companies," Capt. Matthew Finnerty said in an email. "This augmented officer structure supports increased daily supervision with a focus on ensuring proper protocol and procedures are followed throughout recruit training."
In addition to the added supervision, the Corps has mandated suspension of anyone suspected of hazing, better visibility of these investigations, and a review of suicide prevention protocols. Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has ordered wide-ranging reviews of the training process.
"I know [Maj.] Gen. [James] Lukeman at Training and Education Command and [Brig.] Gen. [Austin] Renforth down at Parris Island are looking through the whole system," Brilakis said in response to a question about screening processes for DIs. "But quite frankly, I think what we had was a failure in supervision and a failure to adhere to standards, those that are all very clearly laid out," Brilakis said, referring to the command investigations led by TECOM.
The Corps needs Marines to volunteer to be drill instructors, sergeants and above who lead recruits through the grueling 12-week training, where only the fittest will earn the coveted Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem and the title, "Marine."
"Every single Marine serving on an SDA has been selected, screened, trained and entrusted with doing their job and that 99.9 percent of them are doing the right thing," said Sgt. Maj. Grant VanOostrom, the senior enlisted adviser for M&RA, in the interview. "And they leave their tour better, they leave it better than when they came and they’ve made an impact on the institution as a whole."