Increasing diversity in military's top ranks may be one way to fight hazing

California lawmakers on Capitol Hill are examining the connection between military hazing and the lack of diversity in the officer corps. At a hearing on Tuesday, experts offered several reasons for the small number of minority officers.

Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu knows something about hazing in the military. Her nephew committed suicide last year after being physically and verbally abused by three of his peers in the Marines.

Democrat Judy Chu of El Monte cited a 2004 survey that one in four Marines of color report negative comments or jokes; 1 in 20 were physically threatened. Chu told retired Air Force General Lester Lyles that civilians view hazing as something from “Lord of the Flies”; the military sees it as "absolutely necessary in order to toughen up people, otherwise we can’t fight a war." She asked whether it was necessary to accept hazing and bullying in order to have a strong military. "Absolutely not," replied Lyles.

Two of the Marines who harassed her nephew were found not guilty, the other spent a month in detention. Chu said platoon members bragged on Facebook about “beating the charges.”

She told a panel of military experts one way to eradicate the culture of hazing "that is so ingrained within our troops" is to diversify the officer corps "so that the chain of command can better understand the challenges that every soldier from every background faces."

Democrat Xavier Becerra of L.A. suggested that better recruitment could increase the number of Latino, Black and Asian American officer candidates. He said a small investment by the Navy had increased minority applications at the Annapolis Naval Academy by 25 percent in just two years. "We were reaching out to kids who were talented but had never thought about the option of going to one of the academies instead of going to one of the universities that was recruiting them."

But Lyles told lawmakers there’s an elephant in the room: Seven out of 10 American kids aren’t qualified for the U.S. military. "When you look at minorities, that number goes up to over 80 percent. And it deals with weight, it deals with criminal issues or drugs, it deals with education," he said.

Lyles said fewer of those young people who do qualify apply for the combat jobs that lead to leadership positions in the military. One reason: Parents counsel their children to sign up for military jobs that train them for civilian employment.

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