Deaths and hazing accusations at Parris Island seem to be transitioning from the exception to the rule.
Stories of recruit abuse, sick recruits worried to report illnesses out of fear of being dropped and drill instructors potentially pushing the boundaries past education and training are becoming all too common.
FOIA requests obtained by Marine Corps Times are providing some insight into the problem. However, what’s lacking is a documented course of action leading to change.
The Times highlights back-to-back tragedies in 2016 at Parris Island. These tragedies possibly could have been avoided — either through battle buddies reporting suspicious behavior or by a recruit self-identifying his illness. In these instances, Marine Corps investigators found no evidence that either recruit had been maltreated or abused.
Parris Island spokesman Capt. Adam Flores tells the Times, in regard to these two instances, no changes have been made to recruit training.
The two cases at the heart of discussion regard Marine recruits Kristian Gashaj and Zachary Boland.
The Times reports Gashaj, 19, remains in a coma after allegedly jumping from the second story of a building on Parris Island Oct. 28, according to a redacted copy of an investigation obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Boland, 18, died of pneumonia Nov. 4, according to documents from the investigation into his death — also obtained by a FOIA request. The Times reports despite being sick for several days, the Marine Corps says Boland did not ask for help likely because he was afraid of being dropped from recruit training.
The Corp tells the Times it expresses instructors and recruits alike the importance of looking out for symptoms of distress or illness.
“Recruits are always encouraged to seek medical care at any time, regardless of the associated training being conducted,” Flores told the Times. “The command also emphasizes the importance of looking out for signs and symptoms of illness to both the drill instructors and the recruits.”
According to the Times, Gashaj arrived at Parris Island Oct. 24 and jumped while he was still in processing for recruit training before being assigned a unit.
The Times states Gashaj was being escorted to a classroom Oct. 28 to join the rest of his platoon when he, “stopped abruptly, squared himself to the open balcony, grabbed the handrail on top of the balcony with both hands … and propelled himself over the railing in one, fluid motion,” the investigation says.
Recruits told investigators they never saw drill instructors or other recruits mistreat Gashaj. In fact, the Times reports, several recruits had tried to help Gashaj accomplish his tasks, according to the investigation.
According to the Times, although Gashaj did display odd behaviors after arriving at Parris Island, recruits never considered Gashaj a danger to himself.
One recruit told investigators, reports the Times, Gashaj’ personality changed since they were poolees together the August prior. Before Gashaj shipped to boot camp, the Military Entrance Processing Station in Detroit noted he had been hit in the head by a baseball the month before, the investigation found. The attending doctor did not document any complications, and Gashaj was given six staples in his scalp.
“Based on the provided information, the MEPS [Chief Medical Officer] determined the applicant’s medical profile had not changed (fully qualified) and did not place any delay on shipping the recruit,” the investigation found.
Gashaj’ family isn’t buying the investigation’s findings.
While Gashaj rests in a Michigan long-term care facility, his family tells the Times it doubts the investigation’s finding that he jumped, saying in a statement they, “don’t believe that the investigation report is the truth.”
One week after Gashaj was injured, Boland was found unresponsive in his bunk. The Times reports he was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
According to investigation documents, one drill instructor described Boland’s death as a “freak accident.”
Boland arrived at Parris Island Sept. 24, but was subsequently transferred to the Support Battalion’s Evaluation Holding Platoon for cellulitis treatment, Flores tells the Times. He was cleared to return to recruit training Oct. 22.
The investigation found medical officials determined Boland likely showed signs of pneumonia in the days prior to his death and alleges he could have hidden those symptoms from his drill instructors, according to the Times.
Still, the Times reports, his physical condition noticeably deteriorated before his death. During the seventh day of training, Boland failed a two-mile run, the investigation says. Boland did not need medical help. When a drill instructor later considered putting Boland on trial training, Boland said he, “did not want to get dropped, and he would work hard to meet the standard.”
Investigators learned after Boland died that he had thrown up during chow, but he had asked his fellow recruits not to let his drill instructors know because he wanted to stay in recruit training.
According to the Times, although recruits in his platoon did come forward when they had medical problems, “Recruit Boland was just not one of those recruits,” the investigation found.
Boland’s family tells the Times the recruit always had a high threshold for pain and was familiar with powering through a sickness.
“Several of the recruits noticed how sick he was and really did encourage him to seek treatment, but he refused to bring attention to himself because he probably did perceive that to some extent as a sign of weakness,” his father Bob tells the Times. “He didn’t want to be seen like that all. He wanted to be as tough as any other Marines.”
He was never one to complain about being sick or in pain growing up, said his mother, Sam. As a high school senior, he had a severe allergic reaction to poison ivy, but didn’t tell his mother about it for three weeks, she tells the Times.
Boland’s mother hopes her son’s death shows other Marine recruits that they don’t have to suffer in silence when they are sick or get injured during training.
“There are a lot of kids that are sick at Parris Island and San Diego,” she tells the Times. “A lot of people get hurt. A lot of people have broken ribs and they just push through. Then we hear stories about: ‘I got hurt during basic training and I’m still struggling with that injury all these years later; I got pneumonia at Parris Island and I almost died; I got this at San Diego and didn’t tell anybody that I got a broken rib.’ With all of the stories we’ve heard, it’s amazing that more kids haven’t died.”
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I think the headline of this story grossly misrepresents the facts of the two incidents it describes. One of the recruits’ families disputes the official account of the incident, but the facts reported come from recruits, not from recruit trainers or the chain of command. The other family isn’t quoted as disputing the official account in any way whatsoever.
38,000 Marines are graduated from boot camp each year; the failure rate is approximately 10 to 15% annually, so roughly 42k individuals go to boot camp each year. 2 recruit deaths in 2016 equates to a mortality rate of 0.0047619%.
The overall USMC mortality rate is roughly 0.1225% annually, or 122.5 Marine deaths per 100k Marines. That is 25.725 times higher than the recruit death rate.
For comparison, the mortality rate among college students is 16.51 per 100k, or 0.01651%, which is 3.4671 times higher than the rate among Marine “boots”.
The mystery is not what Parris Island and San Diego’s Recruit Training Depots are doing wrong. The mystery is how they are doing what they do so safely.
Excellent analysis, in a form that makes it irrefutable. We should be worried about the mortality rate among young men and children in Chicago, not Marine recruits at Parris Island. Marine Drill Instructors are tough but they carefully watch over each of their recruits like a mother hen. They MAKE Marines, not kill them.
After reading the reports reported above, it is a tragic loss of a young life but, the indications reported could possibly traced back to the head injury. The Marine Corps cannot and should not lower its standards for any reason. Having gone through Paris Island in the hot summer of 1955, I can assure you, you don’t know the meaning if hazing. Those Marine Corps years shaped my life and were the best thing that happened to a worry kid from the Pennsylvania coal region. Semper Fi
Let the Marine Corps train the recruits, as for the rest of you, mind your own dam business, you have no idea what it takes to train a civilian into a Marine.
Whomever is writing this needs to be a Marine. Battle buddies?
[…] Gashaj jumped from a 2nd story floor to join his platoon. He remains in a […]