WASHINGTON - Emphasizing that bullying and hazing undermine everything the military stands for, the top U.S. military officer said every member of the armed forces has a personal responsibility to uphold its "zero tolerance" standard and intervene to stop any occurrences.
"We are currently investigating several allegations of hazing within our ranks," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported in a posting Dec. 22 on his Facebook site and Twitter.
Dempsey posted his message after the Army brought charges this week against eight Soldiers allegedly involved in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen. Chen, an infantryman deployed to southern Afghanistan with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was found dead in a guard tower Oct. 3 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"These appear to be isolated instances of misconduct, but I want to be very clear: Hazing is simply intolerable," Dempsey said in his message. "It undermines our values, tarnishes our profession and erodes the trust that bonds us."
"This cruel form of misconduct requires an audience to achieve its intended effect of humiliation," he noted. "Every service member should be aware that participating in hazing or even observing it without reporting it are both wrong. We are duty bound to protect one another from hazing in any form."
Navy Capt. John Kirby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, expressed condolences to Chen's family during a Pentagon news conference earlier this week.
"This is a tragic, tragic incident," he said.
Kirby declined to discuss the case, but underscored that bullying and hazing are never tolerated by service members.
"Any single case of hazing or inappropriate conduct to a fellow Soldier, Airman, Marine, Sailor [or] Coast Guardsman is inappropriate and not acceptable," he said. "Zero is the right number."
"We treat each other with dignity and respect. That's what this uniform requires," said Kirby. "When we don't, there's a justice system in place to deal with it. And that's what we're seeing here in the case of Private Chen."
Kirby said hazing is not tolerated in the military and "if it's found and it's proven - it's dealt with."
"This is something inculcated in our culture from the moment you join the service," he noted. "From the moment you raise your right hand through all your basic training and your first tours of duty, these notions are bred into you in the military."
"We treat each other with respect and dignity or we go home. That's it," Kirby said pointedly. "The tolerance is absolutely zero and the system itself, because it works and works well, is in fact, a deterrent to future behavior."
Kirby noted there are still "miscreants" who want to defy military regulations and reiterated "when it's found [and] proven, it's dealt with."
Kirby also cited "training mechanisms" in place throughout all the services designed to help curb these types of incidents.
"Whether you're an officer or enlisted, this is something bred into you when you come into the service," he said.
"Unfortunately, you're never going to be 100 percent perfect in this," Kirby said. "And there's going to be those few who want to flaunt what the uniform stands for and what the regulations require - when that happens they're going to be dealt with."