WASHINGTON — All service members have a personal responsibility to intervene in and stop any occurrences of hazing or bullying, said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, in a recent statement.
“[This behavior] undermines our values, tarnishes our profession and erodes the trust that bonds us,” Dempsey said.
A recent letter signed by Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III, underscores the chairman’s position.
“The very foundation of what we do depends on trust, and trust depends on the treatment of all Soldiers with dignity and respect by fellow Soldiers and leaders,” the letter reads. “Without this, our profession is placed in jeopardy, our readiness suffers and our mission success is at risk.”
The Army’s senior leadership said that hazing or bullying has no place in any component of the Army, amongst neither Soldiers nor civilians. It will not be tolerated, they said.
Hazing a form of bullying
Hazing, a type of bullying that is usually tied to organizational initiation rituals, can be both physical and mental, said Dr. Rene Robichaux, the Army’s Social Work program manager.
Robichaux said hazing often occurs in “elite” military units, and that much of it is psychological and directed at newcomers. He explained that hazing is often rationalized as necessary for one to become “hardened” or “inoculated” for the rigors of combat. He said there is a gray area between what is considered effective training and what may cross the line into hazing-related bullying.
Robichaux said he became aware first-hand of ritualized hazing during his college fraternity days. He experienced it again in 1967, while going through qualifications on a Navy submarine.
There, he said, there was no gray area.
“I knew it was definitely hazing, and that it was time-limited, and completely tied to the time that it took to become proficient on that submarine.”
The best way to curtail hazing is for unit leaders to get involved and not turn a blind eye to this behavior, he Robichaux.
Bullying can occur anywhere
While hazing often happens in elite military units as a form of initiation, bullying can occur in any unit and even within Soldier families.
“Bullies were often once bullied themselves as children and some are not even aware that they are bullying,” Robichaux said. “The abusive behavior can be physical, but more often is psychological, talking down to someone, treating them as inferior or inadequate, constantly criticizing and controlling their behavior.”
Both bullying and hazing can result in psychological stress, depression and in some cases, “could result in a longer term response that would fit the diagnostic requirements of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Robichaux said.
Bullies or victims of bullies are often attracted to the military for positive reasons.
“They often have experienced abuse and neglect as children,” Robichaux said. “The negative behavior of their parents may have been unpredictable. Perhaps they came home late after a night of drinking and meted out punishment in unexpected or inappropriate ways.”
The military often can provide the predictability such individuals did not have when they were younger.
“The military structure seen in basic training and [advanced individual training] is appealing because of the predictability and routine, which for the Soldier coming from a chaotic background, equates to safety, you’re told what to do and when to do it,” he said. “After a year or two, however, they often get into a marital relationship, move off base, get into financial difficulties or have relationship problems, and the bullying/abusive behaviors begin to emerge.”
Bullies can also be found higher up in the ranks. Although leaders are supposed to look out for the welfare of their Soldiers, they are sometimes the ones who do the bullying.
“I worked in a section once where the department supervisor, a very large and intimidating colonel, would verbally threaten people and get right in their face,” Robichaux said. “In today’s organizational climate, he would have been removed and forced to retire. Fifteen years ago the leadership elected to move his victims to safe locations, while allowing him to continue his abusive behavior until he retired after 30 years of service.”
In cases where supervisors are themselves the bullies, Robichaux advised going up the chain of command to the supervisor’s boss to report the abuse. He said if that person’s supervisor doesn’t act, then the inspector general, or in some cases the equal employment opportunity representative, should be notified.
“Unfortunately, I’ve never known a case of a bully voluntarily seeking help,” he said.
For Soldiers and Family members suffering from abuse there is help available. He said Army social workers are in an excellent position to assist. He said social workers can be found in family advocacy, where they investigate child abuse and domestic violence. Others assist in direct support of wounded warriors or practice in primary care, behavior health, and marriage and family therapy. Other professionals can help as well, including chaplains, counselors and first sergeants.
On a positive note, Robichaux said he’s seen fewer cases of hazing and abuse over the last 10 to 15 years.
“We as a society have become more aware of the problem and are less tolerant of these types of behaviors,” he said. “Plus, the Army culture has changed over time.”