Criminal hazing: Raped by his fellow soldiers
April 25, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas — Minutes after returning to his room after a long day of training Iraqi soldiers, Spc. Jarett Wright heard the door open.
Three of his fellow soldiers entered and pushed him down on the bed. Wright struggled, but the other soldiers were too strong.
Two of them — both sergeants — held him down by the shoulders. Another grabbed his legs.
The soldiers ripped off Wright’s belt and tore off his pants and underwear.
Taking turns, the sergeants grabbed Wright’s genitals while the third soldier repeatedly shoved a finger into his anus.
The attack lasted about a minute. But Wright was not the first, nor the last, soldier in C Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, to endure this kind of assault. The unit calls itself “Crazy Troop.”
Wright, who spoke to Army Times about what happened to him, said all the new guys in the troop experienced some sort of initiation. However, the initiations escalated with attacks on him and two other specialists, he said. The two other victims also described identical attacks in interviews with Army Times.
Army Times typically does not name victims of sexual assault, but Wright decided to speak publicly to try to prevent future attacks and insisted that he be named in the story.
“None of us wants this to happen to other people,” Wright said. “If there’s something good that can come out of this, [it] is prevention of that. I used to play football. I know what hazing is, I know what stupid stuff is. This is too far.”
The cases against the soldiers in 1st Squadron stem from incidents that happened during a one-year deployment in Iraq from September 2010 to August 2011. After the attacks were reported, four soldiers were charged with crimes ranging from aggravated sexual contact to hazing, maltreatment and breaking and entering. Three of the soldiers — Sgt. Josue A. Nunez-Byers, Sgt. Brian S. Cornell and Sgt. Shane M. Newitt — have already been to court-martial. A fourth trial, for Spc. Benjamin Hill, is pending.
Defense attorneys for all four soldiers declined to speak with Army Times.
One of the specialists has been moved to a different barracks on post, but Wright still lives down the hall from Hill, who is not under any pretrial confinement, the soldiers said. Cornell is already out of jail and back in the unit, soldiers said.
The three victims plan to leave the Army within the next year.
The third soldier to be assaulted had seriously considered re-enlisting, he said.
“But once the trials started and we watched these guys walk, the level of stress was too much.”
The first specialist to be assaulted and Wright, whose assault was the second to occur, both hope to someday return as commissioned officers.
“I was raped. I want to be discharged just to feel safe again,” the first specialist said. “I need to be around people I trust. How can I feel safe with [a noncommissioned officer] when I was sexually assaulted by them?”
(In January of this year, the Justice Department changed the definition of rape to be “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”)
Wright said he needs some time away from the Army.
“I want to come back as an officer and hopefully make a difference,” he said. “Justice wasn’t done. I don’t want them getting away with this.”
Under newly created Army policy, the three soldiers could request to be reassigned, something they said they are considering.
Meanwhile, the 1st Cavalry Division, the soldiers’ parent division, has launched a “thorough 15-6 investigation into these incidents, including actions taken or not taken by the chain of command,” Fort Hood officials said. “Therefore, it would be inappropriate for us to answer [further] questions at this time.”
But senior leaders at Fort Hood — where 1st Squadron is based — are taking reports and instances of hazing seriously, said Lt. Gen. Don Campbell, commanding general of Fort Hood and III Corps. Campbell ordered a postwide standdown in March, and hazing and the prevention of it was one of the topics he emphasized to his soldiers.
“It’s a leadership issue,” he told Army Times. “We can’t look the other way. … When hazing has been brought to the attention of any leader at III Corps, we have dealt with it in a very quick way.”
The ongoing 15-6 investigation was requested by Col. Bill Benson, commander of the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, and initiated by Col. Philip Battaglia, the division’s rear detachment commander. The 4th BCT is the parent unit of 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment. Battaglia has appointed an investigating officer from a different brigade, Fort Hood officials said.
Hazing an officer
Abuse at “Crazy Troop” was not limited to the three soldiers interviewed by Army Times.
Included in the investigation are snippets of video that show a junior officer from 1st Squadron being hazed by his fellow soldiers. Fort Hood officials aired portions of the video for an Army Times reporter.
In the video clips, the officer is duct-taped to a pole as several soldiers watch. He is shirtless, wearing only his Army Combat Uniform pants. Soldiers take turns pouring water on him, as well as packets of flavored drink mix. At the end of one segment of video, one of the soldiers grabs at the officer’s pants near the groin, and the officer is seen pulling a handful of an unidentifiable substance from inside his pants. Wright and the other victims interviewed by Army Times said the officer in the video is a captain who was subjected to the same anal penetration that they were.
Fort Hood officials declined to identify the officer being hazed or the other soldiers in the video or comment on whether anyone was disciplined for the incident.
Citing the 15-6 requested by Benson, the Army also did not respond to questions about whether the chain of command within 1st Squadron was being investigated, whether the command climate was being examined, or if any leadership within the unit might be disciplined in connection with the assaults on the junior soldiers.
They did note that the platoon, troop, squadron and brigade leadership have changed out since the incidents that were the subject of the courts-martial.
On March 22, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler and the top enlisted leaders from the other services testified on Capitol Hill about hazing.
“Hazing has no place in our Army,” Chandler said. “We will not tolerate hazing in any form, and we will hold those in violation of this policy accountable for their actions.”
Since 2006, the Army has had 71 incidents or cases that meet the criteria for hazing, Chandler told the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee. Those 71 cases involved 139 subjects and 123 victims, he said. Of the subjects, at least 65 received some sort of punishment, while 43 are still pending adjudication. No action was taken against the other 21 soldiers, he said.
“The challenge for us is that there is no punitive or statutory title for hazing,” Chandler said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno discussed hazing in remarks to the House Army caucus last month. “In some cases, it is believed [the incidents] start out as something that is an initiation or fun, but they get too carried away. We are not going to tolerate hazing. “
Pain and humiliation
Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, deployed to Iraq in September 2010 and settled in at Contingency Operating Site Marez in Mosul.
Wright, who served in the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, was moved to C Troop in March 2011. The two other specialists interviewed by Army Times also were transferred to C Troop during the deployment.
The soldiers said it was common for soldiers in the platoon to be subjected to the so-called credit card swipe, where soldiers would run their hands between a soldier’s butt cheeks.
Another common occurrence took place when the soldiers would board a bus to get to their training site to work with their Iraqi counterparts. As a soldier boarded the bus, the soldiers already seated would jab their fingers up that soldier’s butt as he walked by, they said.
According to the specialists, every junior soldier in the unit, at least E-4 and below, was subjected to some sort of harassment. However, the assaults continued to escalate, they said.
The first specialist to be sexually assaulted got to C Troop in March 2011. The soldier told Army Times he was in his containerized housing unit, sleeping, when Nunez-Byers, Cornell, Newitt and Hill burst into his room.
They ripped off his pants, began fondling and groping his genitals, and at least one of the attackers pushed his finger up the specialist’s anus, he said.
“I was struggling, fighting the whole time, screaming for them to stop,” he said. “It lasted maybe 40 seconds and they said ‘Welcome to the platoon.‘“
The specialist said he told his fellow soldiers what had happened, but that “this happened to everyone in the platoon. Everyone’s scared.”
In April 2011, Wright got back from a two-week leave. The specialist told Wright what happened and warned Wright that because he was new to the troop, he likely would be next.
For two weeks, Wright locked the door to his CHU and was constantly looking over his shoulder.
One evening, after a day of training, Wright went to use the restroom, then went back to his CHU but didn’t lock his door. That’s when the attackers pounced, Wright said.
The attack lasted about a minute, Wright said, but it was the most humiliating, degrading, traumatic and life-altering event of his life.
The third soldier was attacked in late April. He, too, had been home on leave, and was attacked three days after he returned to COS Marez.
All of the soldiers said they wanted to move past the attacks.
“I was the new guy, I wanted to put it behind me,” Wright said. “But when you had time to process it, that’s when everything started coming out.”
On May 5, 2011, Wright turned 22. He was given a birthday spanking, which when described, it seems more like a whipping — 22 lashes, plus one extra for good measure, from a fellow soldier’s belt. It left his buttocks raw and swollen.
“I couldn’t lie down or sit for three days,” he said.
In July, the birthday of the first specialist who was sexually assaulted rolled around, and he and Wright went into hiding, fearing that he would face the same whipping Wright received.
That was the final straw for the young soldiers. The specialist went to a sergeant he was comfortable confiding in. The assaults were reported immediately, Wright said.
“It was called Crazy Troop, and they lived up to this,” the specialist said.
The courts-martial for three of the four soldiers charged in the assaults are complete.
Nunez-Byers received the harshest sentence — two years in jail, a dishonorable discharge, and he must register as a sex offender. He was convicted by a panel of officers of aggravated sexual contact and hazing, among other charges.
Cornell, in a military-judge-only trial, pleaded guilty to hazing, assault and maltreatment. He received 20 days of confinement and a reduction in rank to E-3. He was not, however, discharged from the Army.
Newitt was acquitted by a panel of officers. Charges against him included hazing and maltreatment.
Hill will be the last soldier to be tried. As of April 19, a trial date had not been set for Hill.
He is charged with three counts of aggravated sexual contact, three counts of conspiracy to commit maltreatment of subordinates, three counts of violating a lawful general regulation, and three counts of housebreaking.
All three victims said they believe the suspects are getting off easy and that the Army isn’t doing all it can to protect or help the victims.
Campbell said he couldn’t discuss specific cases, but his message is “very loud and clear.”
“We’re going to hold you accountable if it’s substantiated that you’re hazing soldiers,” he said.
He also wants soldiers to know they have a duty to report suspected hazing.
“Soldiers should speak up,” he said. “And leaders set the tone so soldiers are comfortable coming to you.
“I don’t want you to be afraid of making on-the-spot corrections, but then ask yourself if it’s really necessary to make a soldier do pushups and flutter kicks to make an on-the-spot correction,” he said. “If it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t look right, it’s not right.”