Hazing has no place in our military. It undermines our military readiness and deeply scars volunteers forced to endure it. We must have a zero-tolerance hazing policy in our military.
Harry Lew was a Marine stationed in Afghanistan. On midnight, his peers took it upon themselves to administer what they called “corrective training.” They berated him, ordered him to dig a foxhole, and forced him to do useless exercises carrying his heavy full body armor and a 25-lb sandbag. They stomped on his back, kicked and punched him, and poured the entire contents of a sandbag onto his face and in his mouth. It lasted a full 3 ½ hours.
Finally, 22 minutes after they stopped, Harry killed himself with his own gun. He was 21 years old. He was my nephew.
I was shocked and stunned. But I found out that Harry was only the tip of the iceberg There was Danny Chen, Brushaun Anderson, Hamson Daniels McPherson Jr., Jarrett Wright and countless others victims of hazing, picked on because of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or just because they were different.
Here’s how I’m fighting to end hazing in the military:
Congressional Hearing on Hazing
I called for a Congressional hearing and in March, 2012 Congress held the first hearing on military abuse since 1979. In fact, it might have been the first official hearing on hazing in every branch the services in Congressional history.
But at the March hearing, I heard each branch say that they have hazing under control. That their policies are working. I learned that some services don’t even prohibit hazing. Others don’t offer anti-hazing training. And they don’t even track hazing incidents. Through its lack of action, the military condones hazing. This is not right. We owe it to the young people we send to war to be protected from harm by their fellow soldiers.
The Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act of 2012
In response to the military’s inconsistent policies against hazing, I introduced a bill to eradicate hazing in the military entitled the Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act (H.R. 5344). This bill would do the following:
1. Creates a national database to track hazing incidents and help the military determine their causes. Very few of the services track hazing incidents. Those that do track hazing incidents do not analyze the data to improve their prevention policies or training. To better understand the pervasiveness of hazing and harassment in the military, Congress should create a database of hazing incidents that includes the number of hazing allegations, the number of substantiated cases of hazing and the penalties imposed on the perpetrators, including Non-Judicial Punishment and Courts Martial. Additionally, the legislation should require an annual report to Congress on the hazing data collected, analyses of the data and the military’s progress in responding to hazing.
2. Provides a statutory definition of hazing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice to ensure that hazing is a prosecutable crime. In the hearing both the representatives from the Marine Corps and the Army expressed interest in creating a statutory definition of hazing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). They implied that this would make it easier for them to track these incidents. Currently 44 states have anti-hazing laws and 31 states define hazing as a crime in their criminal codes. We also believe that defining hazing in the UCMJ would provide a strong disincentive against hazing and would be an important tool that could be used to prosecute perpetrators of hazing.
3. Requires an independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on each of the services’ hazing training and prevention policies along with the prevalence and consequences of hazing over the last five years. Every branch of the Armed Services has different policies, training and procedures regarding hazing and harassment. Therefore, it is critical that Congress have a more thorough understanding and objective analysis of the prevalence of hazing in the military, the policies in place to prevent it, the effectiveness of the training in place, and the penalties imposed on the perpetrators of hazing.
4. Requires the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan to address hazing throughout the armed services.
Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act
This May, the House passed the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310). This bill included key provisions, similar to my legislation, to combat military hazing. This bill creates a national database to track hazing incidents and help the military determine their causes, provides a statutory definition of hazing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice if it would help ensure hazing becomes a prosecutable crime and requires the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan to address hazing throughout the armed services.
In addition to these provisions, I introduced two amendments, which passed unanimously. They require an independent GAO study on each of the armed services’ hazing training and prevention policies along with the prevalence and consequences of hazing over the last five years, and for the Department of Defense to provide an annual report to Congress on their progress preventing and responding to hazing.
These provisions passing the House of Representatives are a good step forward, but now the Senate has to act. I am working to ensure that these critical anti-hazing policies remain in the final bill when it is signed by the President.
Share Your Story
At the time of Harry’s death, I didn’t know how common his tragedy was - how many other service members had suffered as he did. But the letters started pouring in – day after day, week after week. Mothers, friends and service members themselves wrote in excruciating detail what they and their loved ones endured.
I am committed to being a voice for other victims of military hazing, who often feel like they have nowhere to turn. I have created a page on my website chu.house.gov/hazing for families and servicemembers to share their stories. Together we can put an end to hazing in our armed forces for once and for all.