Congresswoman Says Hazing Killed Her Nephew, Pervasive Problem Throughout Military Ranks

Judy Chu Confronts Military Generals on Hazing, Suicide Death of Her Nephew Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew

by Austin Wright
Politico, March 28, 2012

With U.S. forces in Afghanistan battered recently by a series of incidents that have rolled into a prolonged public relations crisis, Congress is probing yet another problem that has surfaced dramatically: hazing.

The case in point, examined by a House Armed Services subcommittee: the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, the nephew of Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).

“My nephew was a victim of hazing, and it killed him,” Chu told representatives from each of the services last week at a hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Chu is not a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Harry Lew, Marine shot himself after an extended hazing session by his leaders in Afghanistan

Lew committed suicide in April 2011 after fellow Marines punished him — through violence and intimidation, Chu alleged — for falling asleep at his post. Fellow Marines were accused of demeaning him by pouring sand on his face and forcing him to do pushups and other exercises.

Three Marines were court-martialed after the incident. One pleaded guilty to assault, and Lew’s squad leader and another Marine were found not guilty of charges related to hazing.

At the congressional hearing, military service leaders emphasized the episode was inconsistent with the values of the military, but skeptical lawmakers pushed back, voicing concerns about whether such acts are condoned within the ranks.

“What punishment was given?” Chu asked at the hearing. “Virtually nothing.”

Afterward, the congresswoman had a tense conversation with the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, Micheal Barrett.

“What kind of enforcement is that?” Chu asked, referring to the lone Marine punished in the case, sentenced to 30 days in jail and a reduction in rank. “What kind of message does that send?”

“You’re right, ma’am, that does not send a good message,” Barrett responded.

Later, Chu told POLITICO she was not satisfied by her discussion with Barrett and believes hazing continues to be pervasive in the military, despite the assurances of its leaders.

“They want to present the best face possible to the public,” she said. “And they do not want to recognize what’s going on underneath in the rank and file.”

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Related story below:

Judy Chu’s Shocking Story Touches Military Leaders

by Donna Cassata
Associated Press, Sept. 9, 2011

WASHINGTON — The disturbing number of suicides in the military now has a face. It’s Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, a high-spirited Marine who shot and killed himself in an Afghanistan fox hole after hours of beatings, repeated push-ups in full body armor and mouthfuls of sand. Three Marines allegedly punished the 21-year-old after he had been caught sleeping on duty.

A House Armed Services hearing Friday on the status of suicide prevention programs in the military gave leaders from the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps a chance to answer lawmakers’ questions about identifying service members at risk and other steps they are taking to stop suicides.

The military witnesses highlighted their efforts and described how services members often “dance with some dragons,” which was how Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr., put it.

Congresswoman Judy Chu told panel of generals about her nephew Lance Cpl. Harry Lew and how he took his own life after his leaders hazed him.

Toward the end of the hour-long session, California Rep. Judy Chu talked about the life and death of Lew.

He was her nephew.

“I want to tell you about something that happened in April of this year,” she quietly told the military witnesses, her colleagues on the committee and various spectators. She described how Lew was caught sleeping – it had happened before during the previous 11 days in Helmand Province – and how the sergeant had called for “peers to correct peers.” The punishment began at 11:30 p.m. and ended at 3:20 a.m., with Lew punched and kicked and forced to dig a hole.

“At 3:43 a.m. Lance Corporal Lew climbed into the foxhole that he just dug and shot himself and committed suicide,” Chu said. “Lance Corporal Lew was my nephew. He was 21 years old and he was looking forward to returning home after three months. He was a very popular and outgoing young man known for joking and smiling and break dancing.”

The two-term Democratic congresswoman said her nephew’s case wasn’t the only one, and described others. She questioned the military witnesses on whether hazing is prohibited and if so, what was being done to enforce the regulation.

A bit stunned, the military leaders expressed sorrow for her loss. They insisted that hazing is banned, incidents are investigated and offenders are dealt with swiftly.

“We don’t condone hazing in the United States Marine Corps,” Milstead said.

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