QUANTICO, Va. — Drill instructors at the Marine Corps recruit center at Parris Island, S.C., drank alcohol on the job and repeatedly ordered recruits to do illegal calisthenics in a decrepit building called “the dungeon,” recruits testified here Thursday.
The allegation emerged as Staff Sgt. Antonio B. Burke, a Parris Island drill instructor, became the first Marine to face a hearing in a series of cases involving hazing and abuse allegations over the past couple of years. Burke is charged with cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey a lawful general order and making a false official statement.
The alleged abuse came to light after a recruit, Pvt. Raheel Sidiqqui, 20, died March 18 in a fall from a third-story landing while running away from a drill instructor who had hazed numerous recruits, according to one of three investigations the service has carried out over the past year. Burke is at the center of a case that emerged a few weeks after Sidiqqui’s death when a recruit’s family wrote an April 27 letter to the White House complaining about his actions as well as those of several other drill instructors.
Burke, an administrative specialist who joined the service in 2007, was the senior drill instructor until he and several of his colleagues were removed from authority in Kilo Company, Platoon 3044. Three others — Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Bacchus, Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez and Sgt. Riley Gress — face arraignment on related charges Friday, Marine officials said.
None of the drill instructors identified this week have combat experience. Bacchus and Lucena-Martinez joined the service in 2007 as an aircraft mechanic and food service specialist, respectively, while Gress enlisted in 2008 as a motor vehicle operator.
Burke was seen drunk around recruits, regularly directed gay slurs at them and ordered them to do his college homework, according to testimony.
“He asked us who was smart,” said one former recruit who trained under him, Lance Cpl. Kevlin Cabrera.
In other cases, drill instructors were accused of putting recruits in an industrial-size clothes dryer and turning it on, including a Muslim recruit who was called a “terrorist.” Marine officials have not yet identified the drill instructors in those cases, but have said that up to 20 Marines at Parris Island could face criminal prosecution or administrative discipline.
Maj. Gregg Curley, the prosecutor, played a recording of Burke speaking with investigators and admitting that he ordered illegal incentive training on Marines. Doing so is common at boot camp, but it provides the service with fodder for a prosecution.
Cabrera said Thursday that Burke’s team of drill instructors took his platoon of recruits into “the dungeon” on at least two occasions during his training. The building was once used as quarters for recruits, but it has fallen into disrepair and is filthy, Cabrera said.
Use of the facility was unsanctioned, and he said that it was “pretty obvious” that another drill instructor served as a lookout while Burke and others led incentive training, including burpees and pushups on a floor covered in powder that made it hard to breathe. Drill instructors have used various forms of “dungeons” off and on for years.
Cabrera also alleged that at one point his drill instructors snatched a family photograph that had been sent to him and Burke expressed a romantic interest in Cabrera’s older sister, who appeared in it.
Burke ordered Cabrera to log onto his Facebook account afterward — something that Cabrera attempted to avoid by saying he forgot his password and then using the wrong one, the Marine said. Cabrera was ordered to do burpees and reset his Facebook password, allowing Burke to look at other family photographs, Cabrera alleged.
“He keeps telling me ‘No, use your real password,’ Cabrera said of Burke.
Cabrera added that after Burke saw the photograph of his other sister and “said she was hot, ” he was ordered to call his family’s home in Miami so Burke could talk to her and propose that he meet her for a drink when he visited the city.
Burke denied making any phone calls to the girlfriend or sister of any recruit, but admitted taking pictures from them.
“It was like an inside joke-type thing,” he told investigators, according to a recording played during the hearing.
Another former recruit, Zachary Mosier, also recalled being in “the dungeon” and said that he passed out on three separate occasions while enduring excessive incentive training. He eventually left the service on medical grounds because of a heart condition.
“The building was in disrepair,” Mosier said of the “dungeon” building. “Nobody had been in it a long while. I didn’t think anybody planned to use it at any point.
“From what I could tell it was just broken up all over the place,” he said.
The officer overseeing the hearing Thursday, Col. James Bartolotto, has 10 days to make a recommendation on how the service should handle Burke’s case. Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, the commanding general of the Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command, will decide whether to send him to a court-martial trial.
This story was initially published at 1:09 p.m. and updated later in the day with more information.
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