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Marine Corps to take stringent steps to stamp out abuse at barracks

Measures to include disbanding of units found to have serious problems


The Marine Corps is seeking to introduce a set of severe measures to stamp out physical and verbal abuse in its units, which have been blamed for suicides and a shooting rampage in recent months, officials said Monday.

It plans to take the red name tag, a long-standing marine emblem, off the uniforms of those caught mistreating fellow soldiers for a certain period of time and sending them to different units.

It is also reviewing relevant regulations to see if it is possible for the corps commander to dissolve a unit where physical and mental abuse is rampant and then reestablish it.

On July 4, a corporal opened fire at his base on Ganghwa island, killing four soldiers and wounding one. The corporal pointed to a deep-rooted tradition in the corps under which soldiers collectively brand a maladapted solider as an outcast and force even junior soldiers to ignore him.

Many others also indicated abuses are still prevalent at marine barracks.

During a public debate at the Marine Second Division in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, these proposals and others were brought up for discussion by military officials and civilian experts. The debate was organized by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.

Having a red name tag detached is a serious disgrace for any marine who cherishes the honor of being part of the elite corps. Marine recruits receive red name tags at the end of the sixth week of their grueling seven-week basic training program.

“We should take real pains to remove such harmful customs and practices at marine barracks,” said a marine official, declining to be named.

“With this belief that if we miss out on this opportunity, we would not be able to restore our tarnished status, we are trying hard to come up with strong measures to improve the marine barracks culture.”

He stressed that the red name tag means more than just a name tag. “The red name tag given to them is like an order for them to fulfill their responsibilities and duties as part of the Marine Corps,” he said.

The tag is red except for the yellow lettering. The red signifies passion and blood while the yellow stands for sweat and patience.

The corps is also considering disbanding units whose size is company-level or smaller when they observe abuse among its members. It is now conducting a legal review to find out whether its commander can dissolve and reestablish such units.

Details on such anti-abuse measures will be worked out by a taskforce headed by Vice Marine Corps Commander Brigadier Gen. Kim Si-rok.

The taskforce is expected to establish a new code of conduct in October, officials said.

During the debate, the defense minister said that what the Marines regard as part of their tradition could be a “criminal act,” urging the military to pay more attention to abuse cases.

“Beatings, abuses and ostracizing someone. ... What the corps thinks of as their tradition can be a criminal act that tramples on one’s human rights,” Kim said during the debate.

“Abuses hurt not only their bodies, but also their minds. Those who destroy others’ bodies and minds through abusive acts are criminals. I regard them as a criminal act.”

The tragic shooting spree is a blow to the reputation of the 27,000-strong Marine Corps, noted for its successful operations during the 1950-53 Korean War and its dispatch to the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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