The testimony came Thursday at a preliminary hearing for Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke, a former senior drill instructor accused of cruelty and mistreatment, failure to obey orders and making false statements.
Burke is one of four Marines facing military judicial proceedings this week at Quantico Marine Corps Base following an investigation into possible hazing of recruits.
The other three — Staff Sgt. Matthew Bacchus, Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez and Sgt. Riley Gress — are drill instructors who served under Burke at Parris Island, where many Marines attend boot camp. They are scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
The Marine Corps launched the probe after the March 18 death of recruit Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor, Michigan, who fell several stories in a barracks stairwell following an altercation with an unidentified drill instructor. His family has said they believe he was hazed, and do not accept the Marine Corps’ finding that he committed suicide.
The Marines facing charges this week are not connected to Siddiqui’s death.
One Marine recruit testified that he passed out several times during training in the spring of 2016, including one instance when he and other recruits in his platoon were being forced to do pushups while holding rifles in their hands. The recruit said he suffered from a heart condition that eventually led to a medical discharge, but that his passing out was more likely related to dehydration.
Another recruit testified that Burke confiscated a photo of his sister after he found her to be attractive. Burke later made the recruit give him his Facebook password and place a phone call to another sister so the drill instructor could talk to her, the recruit testified.
The recruit, Kelvin Cabrera, now a lance corporal in the Reserves, said he tried to avoid putting his sister in contact with Burke, but that Burke and other drill instructors made him do pushups and other forms of punishment when he said he couldn’t remember his sister’s number.
A highly redacted copy of an investigative report released by the Marines under the Freedom of Information Act indicates that drill instructors routinely confiscated photos that recruits received in the mail when the drill instructors deemed the women in the photos attractive.
The report, along with testimony from Thursday’s hearing, also indicate that Burke required a recruit to help him with algebra homework in a college course Burke was taking. The recruit was permitted two phone calls home in exchange for his help, according to the report.
Burke’s hearing Thursday was an Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding in a civilian court. The hearing officer will make a recommendation whether Burke should be court-martialed.
Burke declined to testify on his own behalf, and declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing. During the hearing, prosecutors played a brief audio clip of an investigative interview in which Burke acknowledged conducting “illegal IT,” or incentive training. Drill instructors can require recruits to do pushups or other exercises as minor forms of punishment, but rules limit the duration and scope of such action. Recruits testified that they engaged in incentive training that lasted well beyond the 15-minute limit authorized under the Marines’ training rules.
Some of the incentive training occurred in an unoccupied building called “the dungeon,” which contained a large volume of dust or debris. Recruits testified that exercise in the dungeon kicked the dust into the air and made it difficult to breathe. The redacted investigative report speculated the debris was largely composed of aged material expelled from fire extinguishers.
Burke, who has been a Marine since 2007, is still stationed at Parris Island, but is no longer serving as a drill instructor.
About 500 drill instructors are assigned to Parris Island.