Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ugly Training, End it NOW

I just read the following AP article about an atrocity committed by a squad of marines in Iraq and it sickens me. I also found it disheartening because I was hoping that the “attitude shaping” that used to go on in marine training had changed from the way it was for me more than 30 years ago, but apparently it has not. For a slight taste of what I’m talking about read my “letters from bootcamp” series as well as my post titled “Should We Humanize Basic Training?”

Just two days ago a buddy of mine was over at the house, an army combat vet from the Vietnam era, and we talked of our similar experiences in training. His were 10 years before mine, but still they were comparable. Both of us were young innocent teenagers, unwise to the ways of the world, and we suddenly found ourselves in an ugly world of violent and foul language as well as vocalized perversity, all from the mouths of our superiors, people we were expected to respect and follow.

In my case, the marines who trained me seemed to think it imperative that we learn how to use derogatory language to express ourselves and that perversity and sadism were “normal.” At the time I had barely turned 18 years old and yet still I questioned the need for it. I suppose the idea is that young civilian kids need to be “hardened” into “killers,” but is this really the case? Can we not also train young men and women in the ways of combat without also brutalizing them and stripping away their moral values?

The wonder is that atrocities committed by US troops are still the exception and not the rule. The problem is that marines and soldiers are steeped in language and mindsets that promote brutality and indecent behavior and yet they are expected to act professionally in the field. Of course this causes confusion to young military minds. How could it not? When I read what happened to young private first class Jodka, its immediately obvious to me that this kid found himself conflicted and led astray by older brutally minded members of his unit.

An obvious problem is the fact that they murdered this guy in a roadside ditch irrespective to whether he was the enemy or not. That is against all the ROEs that I know of. Even if this guy was a throat slitting terrorist they did not have the right to kill him. Obviously we have a leadership problem here, but the problem begins long before the troops go into combat zones. It starts in basic training and the attitudes learned there are inculcated and continued from the top down and laterally among the troops themselves.

What’s missing is spirituality. For there is none of that taught or encouraged as part of most military training regimens. I’m not talking about teaching religion, but I do think that we should allow our young combat troops to keep a level of their basic humanity. Currently, training involves stripping away all the things we learned about right and wrong. I remember that it screwed me up and I’m not sure I ever recovered from it. It’s horrible to think that 18 years of Christian training learned in the home was so easily overturned in the course of three months, but I must admit that it happened. Is it still happening? Stories like the one below tell me that it is.

Marine Gets 18 Months in Iraqi's Death

By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A Marine private who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the killing of an innocent Iraqi civilian was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in custody.

"You have a very fortuitous pretrial agreement," the judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, told Pfc. John J. Jodka III.

Jodka III was part of a squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman accused of kidnapping 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the town of Hamdania, taking him to a roadside hole, shooting him and then trying to cover up the incident.

The military judge wanted to hand down a five-year punishment, but was bound by the terms of the plea deal. Prosecutors had sought 11 years.

As part of a plea deal, Jodka pleaded guilty Oct. 27 to charges of assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and prosecutors dropped other charges including murder and kidnapping. The deal required Jodka to testify. The judge said that if Jodka cooperates, he can receive a general discharge.

"I decided to plead guilty because in the end it was the right thing to do," Jodka said. "I had to weigh in myself the need for truth as opposed to the loyalty to the squad I had bonded with in Iraq.

The judge ruled after reviewing evidence including a video, made by the squad two days after the killing, in which the 20-year-old private participated in profane jokes about killing more people and car bombers.

The video showed Jodka and others atop a personnel carrier, possibly at dawn. It is not clear who is speaking at specific times.

A voice that appears to be the camera operator's says, "J.J., say what you know," and then, "You gonna kill some more (expletive) today?"

"Yeah," is the answer, apparently by Jodka.

Jodka earlier apologized to Awad's family, to his own family and to "my Marine Corps whose highest ideals I have failed to uphold."

Prosecutors say the troops intended to kidnap a known insurgent, but when they couldn't find him they seized Awad instead.

Under questioning by his civilian attorney, Jane Siegel, Jodka said he thought the man who was shot on the night of April 26 was a known insurgent. Asked if he would have fired had he known the man was not, Jodka replied: "Absolutely not."

Jodka described how, as the youngest and lowest ranking member of the squad, he looked up to fire team leader Cpl. Trent Thomas and squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III for guidance and advice while in combat.

He said he had received little counterinsurgency training and said his squad's Arabic language interpreter had quit, leaving them unable to communicate with Iraqis.

Jodka was the first Marine in the case to get a plea deal. The Navy corpsman and two other Marines also have made plea agreements. The corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but will only serve one because of his plea agreement.

Jodka's mother, Carolyn Jodka, testified about the anguish of seeing her son brought to her in the brig in shackles, and asked the judge to consider her son's youth when sentencing him.

"I know this will shape his life," she said. "I hope it doesn't define his life."




I don't think harrassment in basic training or anything else had anything to do with those guys murdering someone.

Those folks had character flaws that were just waiting to come out from the beginnings of their lives.

Folks that have honor and character don't do things like that, regardless of their life experiences. Actions like that come from flawed personalities.

I personally think basic training, advanced infantry training and jump school were jokes mentally, emotionally and physically. Ranger school was a little hard but still it wasn't that big of a deal. There was no harrassment in the Special Forces Course when I went through but then again, most of us were experienced soldiers.

I don't think they should change anything in basic unless it is going back to those days where the antics of drill sergeants made you react without thinking. That is needed. Stop to think when the bullets are flying and you are gonna be laid out all pretty and neat in your coffin.

People are too sensitive today. What happened to intestinal fortitude and mental toughness?

PhilippinesPhil said...

Lets put it this way anonymous, that was a whole squad of marines and not one of them had the "intestinal fortitude and mental toughness" to stop what was obviously a wrong thing to do. I don't buy that bud.

I'm not talking about tough training. I think it should be tougher, but without all the perversity and profanity. The things I heard from day one in the marines and gradually grew to accept as a part of my life concerned talk of raping 3 year olds, and pretty much sex with practically anyone that would allow it. When we trained for close combat with bayonet, knife and hand to hand the instructors spoke of cutting the enemy a "new asshole" and reaching in and grabbing various guts or perhaps gouging out an eyeball for a souvenier. All that stuff promotes unnecessary brutality and its uncalled for. Rarely did I hear marines speak nobly or without vulgarity. I couldn't wait to get out so I could hear normal speech patterns. Even after all these years the memory of all that gratuitous profanity and sex talk still sickens me.

Are you saying an American youth cannot learn combat skills without picking up all the "traditional" antisocial behavior as well? Try taking a walk one evening in a town near a marine base some evening. On Okinawa it wasn't uncommon to see several fist fights every evening. There was little self control and certainly no self-discipline. Those are supposed to be the hallmarks of a professional, aren't they?

Everything is perfect? Our training doesn't need any tweeking? The occasional atrocity is acceptable? I was as tough and tougher than ANY of my profane drill instructors. All the stuff I described above probably still happens, and if so, some young kid is going to take it and run with it. You don't have to turn men into psychos to make them effective in combat. Muscle memory derived from realistic and hard training is what makes men fight well, not animalistic mindsets.

Ed said...

This is a subject I know nothing about Phil except for what I've read that you've written and the movies which really doesn't count.

I think back at when I was 18 and some of my peers that joined the military at that age. Even though we are technically adults, we were all still boys and thus highly impressionable. If basic training didn't start until say age 25, I think by then, moral values would be more ingrained and not as easily stripped away as when we were 18. But since we can't wait that long to get enough recruits, perhaps tough but less crude training is the answer.

Everytime I read something on this subject I think of the movie "Full Metal Jacket."


Yo Phil,

I was just yanking your chain on the first post. Of course I agree with you that it isn't necessary to have all the profanity and talk of raping 3 year old girls and things like that.

When I was in basic training, our drill sergeants would cuss us out and make us to pushups all day long for screwing up, but not once did I ever hear one of them talk about or encourage us to commit any atrocities and I went through basic training in 1970. The cussing really didn't bother me and it still doesn't. I don't think that has anything to do with whether or not a soldier ends up being a bad guy.

However if the people that are training him teach him to fantasize about murdering, raping and things of that nature, it's going to wake up some demons if that person has them.

The bottom line though - psychologically speaking is that people are either capable of those kinds of things or not. Those who are capable of them - will eventually do things like that whether they go through marine corp boot camp or not - i.e., Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, etc. etc. It's a demon that lives within them and sooner or later, somethings gonna wake that demon up. Maybe for some of these guys it's basic training, but in my opinion if it hadn't of been basic training - it would have been something else somewhere down the line.

Those who are not capable of those atrocties will NOT commit them, regardless of what they are taught. As for fist fights bro, I don't see the big deal. Even good troops are gonna blow off steam in that manner. Heck we used to have fist fights with each other and buy each other a beer afterwards. No big deal.

Anonymous said...

"Can we not also train young men and women in the ways of combat without also brutalizing them and stripping away their moral values?"

I agree Phil. The reason we have armed forces is precisely to defend that which we value in our society. Defending ourselves, our families, and our nation is not only honorable but also very compatible with our Judeo-Christian culture. So when the military (or individuals within it) uses these training methods it shows that they themselves are unclear on the concept. It would be far better to not only retain those values we share but even to reinforce them in basic training. I'm convinced we'd have a more effective military in combat as well as fewer social problems like spousal abuse in the military community. See a related post about chivalry on the Military Thoughts blog:

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hey Ed, Anon and Alec. Thanks for weighing in. As you can see I'm pretty passionate on this subject of training. To this day I hate what I went through in bootcamp because I know most of what I observed was simple harassment designed to entertain bored instructors. I despise them for it even after 31 years. I didn't shake their hands when I graduated and if I met them on the street today I would ignore them. I learned nothing from them. Anon, harassment is one thing, but subjecting young minds to perversion is another. Ed, Full Metal Jacket captured exactly the basic training that I went through. Drill instructors see themselves as standup comics. Here's a sample:

"Private! Did you just eyeball me?!"
"Sir, no Sir!"
"I know I saw you looking at me! Are you calling me a liar?!"
"Sir, no Sir!"
"Why were you looking at me private? Do you like me?!"
"Sir, no Sir!"
"Oh! So you DON'T like me? So I'm not good enough for you private?"
"Sir, the private DOES like the drill instructor sir."
"That's what I thought. That's why you were looking at me."
"Private, if you like me, maybe you love me, and if you love me, you probably want to f*ck me. Do you want to f*ck me private?"
"Sir, no sir!"
"So I'm not good enough for you private? You don't want to introduce me to your mama? You trying to hurt my feelings private?!"

My drill instructors had a slew of these pre-written salvos. These exchanges could go on forever, especially if you were the private on the receiving end and realizing that it didn't matter what you said, you were in for it. The rest of us privates would be forced to listen trying with all our might not to grin or to outright laugh, because admittedly some of this stuff is hilarious, but it doesn't make it any less inappropriate. I remember one private who took a lambasting like this one evening when the DI on duty was particularly bored. He made us make a nasty solution of various gargling products and then made all of us swallow mouthfuls of it. One kid couldn't hold it in his stomach and it spewed back up all over the deck. That was the beginning of a horrible ordeal for this kid that went on most of the night. The DI had his victim for the night and he kept at it until this kid was a mass of weeping quivering private. If I could have I would have KILLED that mean SOB. I think of it now and I'd have shot that bastard through the eyeball. To his credit the private stuck it out and made it through training and became a marine. I wonder what kind of a career he had?