Army combat medics training (US Army photo)

Were you hazed while in the military? GAO wants to know …

Tight-knit organizations—everything from kids’ swim teams and summer camps to adult clubs and elite commando corps—ask us to put up with initiation rituals.

Nowadays, there’s supposed to be—and there is, by rule and law—a bright line between acceptable benign rites and unacceptable brutal mistreatment. Yet, in the military the latter—"hazing”—has remained a fact of military life for many recruits.

The Government Accountability Office, this week, announced its new effort at gaining data and a deeper picture of the problem.

“GAO is seeking confidential input from victims who were hazed while serving in the military and is interested in speaking with victims from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, including active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard members,” the GAO release states. “Victims who are willing to share their perspectives on DOD’s efforts to prevent and respond to hazing, and the factors that influenced their decision whether or not to report the hazing, can schedule a confidential interview.”

Persons who have experienced hazing are asked to leave a confidential voicemail at a dedicated number: (833) 679-2484—or by emailing

“Victims do not need to have reported the hazing while serving in order to share their input with GAO,” the release notes.

Hazing: A continuing problem …

Fully one-third of feds have served in the military, according to government data. Thus, what happens in the service bears strongly on the careers, and the mental and physical wellbeing, of federal employees.

According to reports on the problem, filed annually since 2017, these damaging practices persist. Last year, there were 183 complaints of hazing filed among the services, according to that report. Of these, the majority 152 complaints came from servicemembers in the Marine Corps. About a quarter of the aggregate were classed as “substantiated,” while the plurality—42%—remained classified as “pending.”

The annual document was not publicly released, but some of its contents were obtained and published in Stars and Stripes and other media.

What exactly constitutes hazing? Each service technically defines that for itself, but they follow a common outline. According to one definition posted online by the Marine Corps, in the form of a policy letter, hazing is the following:

"Hazing, is any conduct whereby a military member or members, regardless of service or rank, without proper authority causes another military member or members, regardless of service or rank, to suffer or be exposed to any activity which is cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning, or harmful,” the “Hazing Policy Letter” issued by Marine Headquarters states. “Soliciting or coercing another to perpetrate any such activity is also considered hazing.”

“Hazing need not involve physical contact among or between military members,” the letter adds. “[It] can be verbal or psychological in nature. Actual or implied consent to acts of hazing does not eliminate culpability of the perpetrator."

The GAO release did not offer a closing date for its ongoing query. If you or anyone you know suffered hazing while in the service, the agency encourages you to please call or email to help document the scope of the problem, ultimately helping to bring about stronger protections and solutions.

2021 Digital Almanac

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