Army News Service
WASHINGTON — All service members have a personal responsibility to intervene in and stop any occurrences of hazing or bullying, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 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 John McHugh, secretary of the Army; Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army; and Raymond Chandler III, sergeant major of the Army, 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 neither hazing nor bullying has a place in any component of the Army, amongst neither Soldiers nor civilians, and will not be tolerated.
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; however, there is a gray area between what is considered effective training and what may cross the line into hazing-related bullying.
The best way to curtail hazing, Robichaux said, is for unit leaders to get involved and not turn a blind eye to this behavior.
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, as the military often provides the predictability such individuals did not have when they were younger.
“They often have experienced abuse and neglect as children,” Robichaux said. “The negative behavior of their parents may have been unpredictable; perhaps (their parents) came home late after a night of drinking and meted out punishment in unexpected or inappropriate ways.”
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. 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,” Robichaux added.
For Soldiers and family members suffering from abuse, there is help available. Army social workers are in an excellent position to assist and 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 during the last 10-15 years.
“We, as a society, have become more aware of the problem and are less tolerant of these types of behaviors,” Robichaux explained. “Plus, the Army culture has changed over time.”