Camp Pendleton, CA - Marines across the Corps are still trying to cope with the fallout from an incident that some say demonstrates a rash of "rank profiling."
The incident near Camp Horno involving a Private First Class and a Corporal happened last Friday evening. Some believe it was just a simple mistake on the part of the NCO, but others claim it was done out of pure anger.
On July 20th, 2012, Corporal Jason Valdez of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines—who was corporal of the guard that night—was walking near Basilone Road when he spotted a "suspicious male" walking towards the barracks later identified as PFC Terrell Washington, 18, of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Washington was wearing a pair of penny loafers, khaki slacks, and a black unit hoodie tucked into his pants.
“I immediately felt there was something wrong with this Marine, considering he was wearing proper libo attire and all,” said Valdez.
Corporal Valdez decided to confront Washington.
“I got up to him and asked him what unit he was with, but he was hesitant to answer me. He had something protruding from his pockets, so I was a little scared because I didn’t know what it was."
Valdez claims that PFC Washington then turned around and started walking away from him.
“I raised my voice and told him to stop,” said Valdez. “Then he turned around and said something really lippy to me, something about him just coming from training at the pool, which seemed really doubtful to me because… you know. I immediately took that as an affront to my leadership and began chewing him out.”
Witnesses say they could hear Valdez yelling at Washington all the way from the south end of the camp.
“It was extremely loud,” said Lance Corporal Dustin Ball of 1/4. “We all came out of our barracks rooms and saw the one Marine yelling at the other. We couldn’t believe what we were witnessing.”
Following the ass chewing in which Washington was visibly shaken after standing at parade rest for more than five minutes, it was revealed that the suspicious items Washington was carrying was a can of Busch Light and a tin of Cherry Skoal.
“He just didn’t want to get into trouble,” says Washington’s roommate, PFC Gary Shaw. “That’s why Terrell was walking away. He didn’t want to get NJP’ed [non-judicial punishment] for underage drinking. Corporal Valdez completely overreacted. Rankism is still alive and well out here.”
Shaw’s defense of his roomate seems to correlate with the overall sentiment of the non-rate community. The recent incident has revived the long debate about rank in the Marine Corps, with the non-rate community vocally angered about this latest ass chewing. Sales of Busch Light and Cherry Skoal have skyrocketed in many PX’s on Marine Corps installations as the junior Marine community has come together to demonstrate solidarity with Washington.
But recent polls show that many members of the NCO community are coming to the side of Corporal Valdez.
“Look, Corporal Valdez had every right to stand his ground and chew that fuckin' boot out,” said Sergeant Jeff Choi of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “I know if it was between maintaining the good order of the Corps and appealing to the sensitivities of a boot, I’d choose discipline without question.”
In the wake of the mounting tension between the NCO and non-rate communities, many officers are stressing to their Marines that they must show caution and avoid jumping to any conclusions.
“The only people who know what really happened were PFC Washington and Corporal Valdez,” says 1st Lieutenant Seth Tracewski of 2nd Tank Battalion. “We can’t jump to any conclusions. Not everything is black-green and white-green, sometimes it’s just gray-green. We have to let NCIS do their investigation and have trust in the UCMJ. Justice will prevail.”
While many of PFC Washington’s fellow boots have been eager to paint their comrade as your average junior Marine who’s never done anything to harm anyone, recent facebook photos showing Washington posing in the field at the School of Infantry give a different impression.
In one photo, Washington appears in full uniform, clutching an unloaded SAW with a BFA on it.
"You see that?” asks Sergeant Choi. “That doesn’t seem to me like the badass Marine everyone is making him out to be. Who the fuck tries to look moto with a BFA on their rifle?”
Regardless, there has been a public outcry among non-rates concerning investigators’ unwillingness to court martial Valdez. Many are calling for brig time.
Lt. Tracewski adds: “This whole incident has caused a lot of tension between my Marines. It just seems like the Marine Corps will always struggle with the question of rank and what to do. And while we’re all sitting here on the sidelines giving our opinions on the matter, we forget that the biggest travesty was two Marines lost their innocence that day.”