The Corps has been gunning at Marines posting comical videos and pictures to the beloved military-themed comedic account Terminal Lance that it deems to be inappropriate.
And the weapon of choice at the Corps’ disposal: a newly enshrined social media policy, which came in the wake of nude photo sharing scandal known as Marines United.
But the Corps’ heavy-handed actions against some Marine jokers on Terminal Lance questions whether these postings truly are in violation of the Corps' intended purpose of the policy ― to root out cyber bullying and sexual harassment.
According to former Marine Lance Cpl. Maximilian Uriarte, the creator of Terminal Lance, a battalion commander recently attempted to withhold his unit’s Thanksgiving weekend liberty due to a video posted to the Terminal Lance Instagram page.
The video showed a Marine crushing a beer can over his head at what appeared to be a military function with Republic of Korea Marines.
Terminal Lance is a popular comic with Marines and veterans that boasts a massive audience over several social media platforms. The site’s Facebook and Instagram pages alone claim over a million followers combined.
Frantic U.S. Marines, worried that their liberty over the Thanksgiving holiday was about to be canceled, blasted Uriarte with messages, asking him to take down the video or the unit would be punished.
“Hey Man…look we are losing out 96 this weekend cause of the video with the ROK Marines and the guy smashing beer on his head..if you could take it down you would save an entire battalion,” one Marine messaged Uriarte.
A “96” in the military refers to the number of hours service members have off over the holiday ― basically a four-day weekend.
“Hey bro, messaging you about that dude drinking with the ROK Marines. Anyway you can take that video down? They secured the whole Bn’s [battalion] 96 because of the video getting out because apparently it’s some big secret that we train with the South Koreans,” another Marine said in a message.
The Corps has been taking rank and using nonjudicial punishment, or NJP, to deter Marines from posting hilarious albeit potentially embarrassing videos that show Marines participating in activities the Corps would argue is unprofessional and in violation of its social media policy.
That social media policy, known as ALMARS 008/17, was born out of the Marines United scandal, where nude photos of female Marines were shared on a secretive Facebook page, often without the victim’s consent.
“Marines have got to understand that using social media to degrade, denigrate or be disrespectful to another Marine is not just not who we are, but it’s illegal,” Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, told lawmakers in March 2017, just as the Marines United scandal was coming to light.
The policy, now further addressed in the Prohibited Activities and Conduct, or PAC order, is meant to deter and punish Marines for posting material on social media that could adversely impact good order and discipline.
The PAC order also addresses other issues like hazing, sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and protest activity.
“My stance on it is that the Marine Corps’ social media policy is not Terminal Lance’s social media policy,” Uriarte said. “Everything posted on TL [ Terminal Lance] gets vetted through my good sensibilities and I do not post things that I think are over the line."
Two Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, were punished during their unit’s 2018 deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of operations for posting images the Corps deemed inappropriate, one of those was published to Terminal Lance’s Instagram page.
“Marines send me these things because I’ve spent years building up their trust and audience, and every day I get panicked Lance Corporals pleading with me to take down some video they sent the night before because their chain of command is trying to burn them,” Uriarte told Task & Purpose.
Uriarte told Marine Corps Times that he has heard these social media punishments for images and videos posted to his site happen often.
“My issue is that I find the practice of scaring 19 year olds and threatening their careers is a sad policy to have when it comes to social media,” he added
A lance corporal with 3/7 is now currently working on his second E-3 promotion award after he was busted to private first class following his NJP for posting an image to Terminal Lance’s Instagram page.
A charge sheet obtained by Marine Corps Times described the photo as an “inappropriate picture” of the Marine and included “indecent” language and conduct.
Another Marine with 3/7 was busted down for violating the social media policy after posting a photo of himself in uniform “with a cigarette in his mouth flipping off the camera while sitting in a MATV,” a charge sheet detailed. That Marine also lost pay and was placed on restriction with extra duty for 45 days.
The M-ATV is a mine resistant vehicle made by Oshkosh and used by U.S. forces in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Uriarte said the Corps needs a better social media process for modern age where representatives from the Corps can reach out and discuss removing posts in a professional manner.
“Marines do not control the actions of Terminal Lance and Terminal Lance is not controlled by the Marine Corps,” he said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.