Sailors are still being taped down, in violation of Navy hazing policy. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Eight recruits ordered to show their dance moves.
Three sailors whose submarine “dolphins” pin was tacked on.
One sailor who barely escaped being thrown down a chute on their ship.
These are among the two dozen reports since the Navy stood up their counter-hazing task force in early 2013, which has seen a rise in reports of mistreated sailors.
The uptick is heartening, however, according to the effort’s leader, because it means sailors are more comfortable coming forward, the first step to eliminating hazing from the service altogether.
“We’ve made a very concerted effort to explain to our sailors what all of that destructive behavior actually means,” Rear Adm. Sean Buck, who heads the Office of Hazing Prevention, told Navy Times in a March 25 phone interview. “And just as we saw a dramatic increase in reporting of sexual assault this last year in the Navy, we have seen an increase in the reporting of hazing.”
Buck’s office is charged with tracking trends, as well as creating and implementing policy for the fleet on what exactly hazing is and how to report it — rules that in the past were not so clear.
For now, hazing in the Navy is defined by instruction from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, but an upcoming OPNAV instruction will better clarify the definition, Buck said, as well as lay out eight ways a sailor can be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for hazing a shipmate.
Also forthcoming is guidance on “signature behaviors,” or a what-to-do list to contrast with the Navy’s many what not-to-do rules.
“We realize that we spend a lot of time telling sailors what not to do, what’s wrong, but we don’t spend as much time telling sailors what does right look like,” Buck said. “Let’s describe good behavior, show examples and commend it.”
The goal now is to get sailors comfortable with reporting incidents, whether as victims or witnesses, Buck said.
Greasing, taping and striking
A 2013 SECNAV instruction defined hazing within the Navy for the first time, explicitly banning acts like “greasing,” “taping” and “striking.”
But that appears not to have stopped the hazing. Since then, the OHP has gotten a handful of reports of sailors taped down. There was also a case of striking in January, where an E-3 lost a bet to an E-6, and the terms subjected the E-3 to three strikes in the leg with a welding rod.
The incident sounds like a straightforward assault, Buck said, but the difference in rank introduced an abuse of power that pushed the case into hazing territory. The logic being, a junior sailor could hardly turn down the 1st class’ wager.
Still, he stopped well short of saying that all bets are tantamount to hazing.
In general, maltreatment and assaults rise to the level of hazing when rank disparity, a group mentality or an induction setting are in play, he said.
Whether an incident is consensual doesn’t matter, Buck said, if there’s an element of danger.
“If you’re hazing and you hurt somebody and you take that person out of work, there’s one of your teammates who’s no longer a productive member of the team until they get well,” he said.
In addition to unspecified cases of verbal and psychological hazing and a few incidents of tacking on warfare qualification pins, three cases of physical punishment came from the fleet. These involved more senior sailors making a junior guy drop and do some pushups, for example.
Ten pushups was once a pretty standard punishment for screwing up at your job, but no longer.
That treatment is only OK at boot camp, the Navy’s top sailor said.
“This is part of the sailorization process, right?” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens told Navy Times in a March 19 interview. “But a supervisor out in the fleet can't drop a sailor for corrective action. ... There are many other ways that you can handle that.”
If there’s a behavioral issue at hand, it needs to start with a conversation, he said.
Buck agreed, explaining that a supervisor needs to make sure the corrective action addresses “a particular behavior, and it’s focusing on a legitimate demand requirement.”
Extra military instruction is an example of this, he said, stressing that the goal of EMI must not be punishing a sailor — as it is often employed.
Still, he added, not every embarrassed sailor has been hazed.
“It would be my opinion that if the punishment meted out by the superior is trying to correct the mistake that was made, or a shortcoming in training, and it was going to improve the sailor’s performance in the mission, if it was mission-related,” it’s likely not hazing, he said. “I probably can’t help that a sailor was embarrassed that they made a mistake,” he said.
'Break down trust'
What’s so wrong with a few push-ups?
Ordering a bluejacket to pump out pushups or taping him to a chair may seem like horseplay, but Buck explained that when someone becomes comfortable with smaller abuses, it can embolden them to cross the line elsewhere.
“I can’t be more emphatic about that relationship,” he said.
On a “continuum of harm,” he explained, there might be sexual assault and rape on the far right side, with lesser offenses like hazing, bullying and harassment on the left, that, if left unchecked, could escalate.
“All of these destructive behaviors are intertwined,” he said.
By these definitions, hazing may be common in the Navy, given that push-ups and duct-taping are by no means unfamiliar. Official figures suggest that very few are reporting these incidents or that the Navy has largely stopped these practices in the past year. Buck declined to estimate how many sailors are taped to chairs versus how many report it.
However, he did have strong words for anyone who puts up with hazing, whether as participants, victims or bystanders.
“If someone thinks, ‘Well, it’s okay,’ and they tolerate it happening to themselves, I don’t want them, as they rise in rank and rise to positions of responsibility later in their years in the Navy, ... they may be prone to haze others that are subordinate to them,” he said. “So shame on them if they tolerate it themselves.”
And while an incident might not seem like a big deal, it’s important to look at the larger implications of hazing, Buck said.
“The reason why we want to get rid of destructive behavior is it ultimately affects the mission readiness of the team,” he said. “We think that all forms of destructive behavior break down trust between you and your shipmates, trust between you and the leadership of your unit, and really kind of big picture, the trust in the Navy.”
The gray area
Two incidents made headlines in recent months for their hazing-like overtones, but neither are on the books as such at the OHP.
Four Hawaii-based senior enlisted sailors were formally counseled after an August physical training session sent 12 chiefs-select at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, to the hospital for extreme exhaustion, according to a Navy investigation.
The report found that while the training sessions took place as part of chiefs season, there was no intent to harm the sailors in the process. A chief and senior chief who led the training sessions did not communicate about the intensity of their regimens, which led to a dangerous condition that required hospitalization.
A less dangerous but much more disgusting incident happened in October, when a chief aboard the destroyer Jason Dunham ordered 13 female sailors to march bags of feces down a Norfolk, Va., pier.
The ship’s sewage system was undergoing maintenance, so some of the toilets were marked with warnings and plastic wrap, but that didn’t deter the women in two berthing areas.
The chief discovered human waste in two heads and ordered the 19 residents to clean them out. Then 13 of them were ordered to form up and take the loaded plastic bags to port-a-potties on the pier.
A spokeswoman for Fleet Forces Command called the incident hazing in a December interview with Navy Times, but it’s not on the rolls with the OHP in Washington.
“The real hazing is them being marched down the pier in formation,” Lt. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said at the time.
Chief of naval personnel spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello could not say why the incident wasn’t reported to the hazing office, but said lessons can still be learned from the overly zealous punishment.
“There may be behavior and incidents that maybe aren’t hazing but are still valuable to the larger hazing discussion,” he said.
Whether cases are kicked up to Washington is at a commander’s discretion, Servello added, but Buck suggested COs call his office if they’re looking for guidance whether a case is bullying, hazing or something more.
“If it turns into more of criminal activity — [for example,] assault consummated by a battery — we can help them clarify how the accountability should be meted out,” he said.
Twenty-four allegations of hazing were reported to the Navy's Office of Hazing Prevention from July 2013 to February of this year. A summary of the cases, provided by the Navy:
|Date of report||Ship or shore command?||Complaintant's paygrade||Paygrade(s) of alleged offender(s)||Was accusation substantiated?||Summary|
|July 2013||Shore||E-3||E-4||Yes||Victim restrained to chair with tape.|
|July 2013||Ship||E-5||E-7||Yes||Incidents of verbal and physical abuse over approximately 18 months.|
|July 2013||Ship||E-5||E-2/E-5||No||Allegiations not substatiated.|
|August 2013||Shore||E-3||E-5||Yes||Female service member taped to a chair and left alone to see whether she could escape.|
|August 2013||Ship||Multiple E-4s||E-4/E-5||Yes||Hazing in engineering department.|
|September 2013||Shore||E-1||E-6||Yes||Newly qualified recruit division commander directed eight recruits from different compartments, at different times, to sing nursery rhymes and perform dance moves in front of other recruits within each compartment.|
|September 2013||Ship||E-7||Various||Yes||Victim treated in a demeaning or psychologically humiliating manner.|
|September 2013||Ship||E-3||E-3||Yes||At least three sailors involved with "tacking on" submarine warfare devices ("dolphins") while underway.|
|November 2013||Shore||E-3||E-6||Yes||Forced physical fitness as means to correct behavior.|
|November 2013||Ship||E-5||E-6/E-5||Yes||Victim had beer bottle, neck down, placed in boxer shorts over small of his back. A picture of the incident was emailed to and viewed by an unknown number of crew members.|
|November 2013||Ship||E-5||E-5||Yes||Warfare device "tacked on."|
|November 2013||Shore||E-3||E-4||Yes||Sailor forced to perform physical exercise for about 35 minutes while being yelled at by the alleged offender in order to correct a performance deficiency.|
|December 2013||Shore||E-3||E-2||Yes||Super Glue applied to victim's door, thereby preventing victim from accessing his assigned barracks room and rendering the door inoperable.|
|January 2014||Ship||E-3||E-6||Yes||As part of a wager between victim and offender, offender struck victim in the leg three times with a welding rod.|
|January 2014||Ship||E-3/E-4||E-7||Yes||Physically abusive, verbally abusive, demeaning and psychologically humiliating hazing.|
|January 2014||Shore||E-4||E-5||Yes||Verbal abuse.|
|January 2014||Shore||E-5||O-4/O-3/ E-6/E-5||Pending investigation|
|January 2014||Shore||E-4||E-5||No||Investigation indicated no hazing.|
|January 2014||Shore||E-3||Multiple E-3s/E-4||Yes||Victim's arms and hands taped to his body and tape placed over his mouth.|
|January 2014||Ship||E-3||Various||No||Accuser mentioned being threatened while underway with a different crew and "hazed."|
|January 2014||Shore||E-6||E-7||Yes||Verbal abuse/demeaning language.|
|February 2014||Ship||E-3||E-4/E-1/E-2||Yes||Three service members attempted to "initiate" the victim by throwing him down a chute.|
|February 2014||Ship||E-3||E-6||Yes||Victim ordered to perform a set of 25 pushups while offender made a single disparaging comment about him.|
|February 2014||Ship||E-5||E-7/E-6/ E-6/E-5||Yes||Physical, verbal, demeaning and psychologically humiliating hazing took place.|