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Confessions of a Marine Corps MutineerTim King Salem-New.com
Definition of MUTINY - forcible or passive resistance to lawful authority; especially : concerted revolt (as of a naval crew) against discipline or a superior officer
(SALEM, Ore.) - I became a bit of an expert on the military legal system during my time as a U.S. Marine. I don't know if it was half me and half the Marine Corps, or just how it all came to be the mess that it was; but I do feel that I became a qualified expert of sorts at being a Marine troublemaker. In Marine Corps jargon I was a 'Shitbird' and believe me, it was more like a club than just a word used to belittle us.
The Marine officers I answered to were merciless hollow-shell men. They inspired sayings like: "There's nothing wrong with the Marine Corps, but there sure is with something wrong with the people who run it".
Not long ago I wandered through the offices that used to house these men during the day; these men who screamed and ranted and raved and sometimes threw blows at us to teach us discipline. Today the place is completely abandoned and the only voices come from ghosts .
These men who were in charge were not our leaders, they were simply against those of us who didn't kiss their asses. And if they thought I was a pain in the ass as a Marine, these indifferent jerks who subjected my friends and I to stupid levels of abuse surely never thought I would become a writer.
Unlike that point in my life, today I have as many friends as enemies in this Marine Corps world.
I also know that I am not the only one who found myself in real serious trouble with Marine authorities time and time again.
USMC-Uncle Sam's Misguided Children
I joined the Marine Corps on 12 June 1981, graduating basic training or 'boot camp' at San Diego in September '81, and by October I reported to my first duty station, Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Southern California.
In November, I was five minutes late to a morning formation, and I was written up for being "UA" (Unauthorized Absence) and informed that I would go to Office Hours with my commanding officer for my offense.
'Office Hours' is Marine terminology for being tried and sentenced by a commanding officer.
A Marine facing charges for a somewhat minor offense, can ask for a summary court martial if they choose to; but typically opt for Office Hours, (non judicial punishment) - Article 15 under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice).
I was sentenced to a facility where I ultimately found myself in a position of resistance, and there was a window of time when two senior Marines were in the process of charging me with leading a mutiny, which is a very, very serious matter.
Following my crime of being five minutes late to formation, exactly four months into my Marine Corps experience, I was sentenced to 30 days in CCU (Correctional Custody Unit) known as "The Remotivation Platoon", placed in the back of a van and taken from El Toro to Camp Pendleton where I would begin my sentence as Confinee King. After arriving, I was even given a white tag with that unflattering title, and told to clip it to the pocket of my uniform.
'What a terrible place' I recall thinking, there was no other way to describe it. Loud, screaming pissed off Marines who were charged with making those like myself tired and miserable. And I was going to be here for a month.
Marine Corps CCU at Camp Pendleton, what we simply referred to as 'CC', as I have always told people, was like boot camp, only without officers patrolling the area, trying to catch drill instructors beating or abusing recruits; helping the Marines avoid the heat of families and lawyers unhappy with the treatment of their son.
Before expanding on what happened at CC, it is important to understand that in boot camp, there are many people present in many situations. Most who did what they were told and had what it took physically and mentally, did not have major problems making it through basic. There were many in my platoon who did not have what it took and while Platoon 1044 began with around 100 recruits, our drill instructors graduated 74.
Correctional Custody Unit- Camp Pendleton
Correctional Custody Unit at Camp Pendleton was located in a wooden two-story World War Two barracks that was surrounded by a fence, but nothing very intense; enough to get the idea across. I tried to pinpoint the building in the Google Earth image accompanying this article; I know it is 52 Area, building 5231107. If anyone can help pinpoint the building or has a photo, I would appreciate hearing from you.
At CCU there were three crews of Marines who ran the place. They ranged in rank from corporal to gunnery sergeant. They worked 24 hours and then had 48 hours off.
We were endlessly drilled and PT'd (Physical training) and we were tested in every possible manner except as I recall, rifle training. After all, we were 'confinees' and not even allowed to use our own rank when identifying ourselves.
Of the three crews, one was there to do the job of drilling us all day long but they were very reasonable as human beings and didn't do anything out of line. I got along particularly well with this crew and one staff sergeant whose name I can't recall, asked endless questions about what it was like growing up in Los Angeles and surfing and was just very curious about Southern California culture.
He designated me 'house mouse' which meant that I stayed inside and helped with clerical items and basically shot the breeze many nights with this crew of sergeants, who were all well-natured men.
The second crew, if you will, was not overly friendly though I did seem to get along well with an African-American gunnery sergeant who headed this second group of NCO's (Non-commissioned officers).
They put us through the moves and might have enjoyed their work a little too much at times, but we were there to be punished and pushed and they liked to have us pick up telephone poles and run and that kind of thing. Sometimes we were given ten pound sledge hammers and we broke big rocks into little ones, really.
None of us were under the illusion that we would be treated well, but like all people, we expected to be treated at least humanely. Cruelty we couldn't avoid, but illegal behavior; that we should never tolerate. That is what this story is about.
The third crew as we will refer to them for the purpose of this article, was nothing less than a sadistic team of Marines who needed to be tossed in Fort Leavenworth for their crimes. Instead, for a short time, it would seem that I was going to be the one going to Leavenworth.
And I want to point something out about the whole shitbird thing and the Marine Corps' position in the early 1980's toward Marines like myself.
A stereotypical 'shitbird Marine' is a slacker who wears their cover (hat) far back on their head and has their hands in their pockets, which is forbidden for a Marine to do. (Yes, it is an offense to place your hands in your pockets in the Marines). That is the stereotype, the picture that comes to mind.
These guys do exist, they are often Marines who have been in for a long time and have little rank. I had a friend in the Corps who had two hash marks indicating eight years of service, but was only a lance corporal; an E-3 in the Marines.
Sometimes they are unable to follow directions for whatever number of reasons, but that friend who hailed from the state of Nebraska, knew our operation better than almost anyone there.
My friend Terry, whose last name I will leave out, had been caught with pot. So they gave him office hours and made him the equivalent of a Marine who had been in about a year and a half, in terms of rank.
I was reliable when I did my job and I was proud to be a Marine. I believed at the time that I had all of the essential ingredients, except for that rare quality some people possess, that allows them to stay out of trouble.
And for the record, I was caught in a urine test for having marijuana in my system, but that was in 1981 and Marines were not prosecuted for a positive urine test until the beginning of 1982.
I stopped using pot and never was in trouble for that in any official terms, though I would always be associated with it because of the test in 1981.
I was one of two guys in my squadron for the duration of my time with MWSG-37 (Marine Wing Support Group) at El Toro, who regularly spit shined my boots, and I pressed the hell out of my uniform every night for the coming day.
One reason I was branded a shitbird is because I parted my hair in the middle, seriously. I had a shitty attitude in the beginning but I tried to keep pushing forward.
I just never adjusted to being beaten for my mistakes by a sergeant who was practically overdosing himself on steroids while looking like a monster troll, all in the good graces of our command.
If there had been even reasonable treatment, or if I had been a couple of years older, I think it would have worked out much better.
Instead I was one of hundreds of Marines at the time who were in trouble, many of whom were being kicked out, and just putting up with endless, needless harassment.
It's funny; I was covering the war in Iraq in 2008 as an embedded reporter with what other group than my own alma mater, MWSG-37 which was operating in the Anbar Province, when I quickly learned that absolutely nothing has changed in the United States Marine Corps.
I talked to several Marines in a short period of time who were in trouble for one thing or another, facing charges, losing rank, being restricted to barracks, etc. It looked like little had changed over the years since I checked out from the same squadron.
Also, it is important to note that some of the Marines I talked to were not part of MWSG-37; the problems I described about Marines having trouble staying out of hot water were in no way unique to my former aviation support group.
In fact the Public Affairs staff at the al Asad Airbase, was the absolute best; rolling out the red carpet when I arrived, with two lieutenants there to carry my gear.
For all the negative things I reference, there is something equally good taking place in the Marine Corps. Marines are high caliber human beings; the legendary esprit-de-Corps just needs to be more of a constant thing.
Marines need to always take care of other Marines.
The Marine Corps I Knew Then- And Now
I have come to know the Marine Corps in ways that I never expected. It started when I was still in, stationed at El Toro, and I learned that our executive officer (XO), a career fighter pilot, was hanging out in the more flamboyant establishments of Laguna Beach. This same man who was a major, had tossed two guys in our squadron out for reportedly being homosexual.
I don't know or care if they were, but there was no advocacy for them from their command, only trouble. To know that the second officer from the top was probably gay, just makes it all look like a big pile of hypocrisy.
A few years after I was discharged from El Toro, a colonel who was third in command of the base, James Sabow, found out that large shipments of drugs were being unloaded at El Toro off schedule in the middle of the night. This was five to six years after the Iran-Contra hearings, and the shipments of drugs and weapons to Nicaragua were still moving back and forth.
Both the commanding general of the base and the one colonel senior to Jim Sabow, appear to know far more than they ever let on about his "suicide" in his back yard on a sunny morning. Col. James Sabow was murdered, there was not a single thing about the investigation that said suicide and the colonel's brother is a medical doctor who has never given up his quest to see his brother's killers arrested and convicted. 
One of the bases where I spent time, in addition to El Toro and Camp Pendleton, was the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. This is a Harrier base and a very interesting place.
In 1995 I was hired by the NBC station in Yuma, KYMA Eyewitness News-11, as a news photojournalist. Over the next two years, I saw another side to the Marine Corps; that was the side where aircraft frequently crashed and reports sometimes barely made the news. It is a tragedy because, at least at that point in time, the Marines were always struggling with limited budgets that were inadequate in addressing serious problems with tired, aging planes. The worst example I covered was the crash of an EA6-B Prowler with four officers aboard, all of whom were killed. My crew actually was allowed to enter the range and report from the scene of the tragic crash.
I recall driving away from that crash and recalling how the Marine Corps was not given enough, and it seems they were not very good then at using what they had to maximum sufficiency. That last part is strictly my opinion, but I have a level of distrust these days toward the Marine Corps' top decision makers. Because of having written so many stories about the Marine Corps in recent years, I am frequently contacted with new stories and leads. Parents of Marines contacted me in August 2009, saying that their sons were repeatedly being sent into a deserted town in Afghanistan's Helmand Province called Now Zad, and taking casualties over and over without any good reason.
I wrote about it and fortunately a short time later, the Marines were not dying in Now Zad. I always remember this comment that a Marine named Andrew left on the story:
andrew September 26, 2009 7:54 pm (Pacific time)
Then last year, we learn that the Marine Corps has been lying for years about the levels of Benzene contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
This, after our project launched in 2008 to expose the contamination of El Toro which like Camp Lejeune, has caused a widespread cancer and health problems among veterans. 
I know the Marine Corps these days in ways that I didn't know it then, and believe me it is a love/hate relationship.
When I was in Camp Pendleton's Correctional Custody Unit at the age of 18, I knew that I hated the Marine Corps with a passion. Today I love the qualities that Marine Veterans possess.
Many of my good friends and fellow Salem-News.com writers are former Marines; I have Marine buddies from when I was in, and another group that I accumulated while covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it creates an incredible bond for life.
One friend who is a former Marine, Salem-News.com's Robert O'Dowd; has been putting in extra hours combining our stories from the last three years about El Toro into a book that will be released in the coming months.
Watch for, A Few Good Men- Too Many Chemicals, hopefully before the end of this year.
The Red Badge of Indifference
As I mentioned, CCU was rough and as the sidebar on the right side of the story above shows, they had quite a schedule for those of us unlucky enough to be there. Every week we took a full Marine Corps physical fitness test (PFT) and each week our uniforms were inspected to the hilt and we were tested in the classroom each week also. If you did very well in the PFT and the inspections and tests, you received a red mark on your white ID card that was clipped to your breast pocket. This was known as a red badge, and a lot of Marines in CCU didn't get one.
I maxed my scores week after week and became what is known as a 'Double Red Badge' which meant that I had excelled in every possible way. Double red badges were released a week to ten days early, but not apparently when you are the ringleader of a mutiny named Tim King.
A Prelude to Mutiny
One particular day, this third group consisting of one corporal, one sergeant, and one staff sergeant, had a particular thorn in their side. Everything was overdone, we were threatened all day that at night, we would run the barracks. It wasn't the first time, this crew frequently made us run the barracks. That meant running the length of the building, then down the stairs to a landing, and then we hooked a 180 and went down the second half of the stairs. Then we ran the length of the building downstairs, and went back up the other stairs, round and round.
We ran hundreds of laps, and on this particular night it went on and on. Then the sadistic crew of Marines started grabbing the ankles of tired 'confinees' coming down the last section of stairs and they would trip and fall, striking their heads, bleeding; forced to keep going. Eventually people kept falling and the floor at the base of the stairs became wet with blood and sweat. More Marines fell.
The next morning, before it was light, they had us outside running in a circle, the whole group of several dozen CCU Marines, running and running after being run to Hell on the stairs the night before. Crew number three was enjoying the whole thing. We were marched to chow where we devoured everything we were given, then back outside and in formation. Soon we were being marched from the chow hall, back to the CCU barracks. Halfway or so there, crew number three began drilling us from two sides simultaneously with a reverse cadence. As one yelled "Left right" the other yelled "right left" and soon the platoon was marching out of sync and we were stopped, "Platoon... halt!"
"Okay, assholes to elbows" the one I recall as a corporal called out.
This is one of the Marine Corps' most humiliating practices; making the platoon scrunch up to where each Marine's face is literally touching the back of the head of the guy in front of you. After making the platoon assume this formation, the platoon leader or drill instructor, whatever the case may be, yells, "Forward March" and the first Marines walk; the three squad leaders (Basic training has four squads) march, maybe the second row of Marines, and the rest of the platoon falls down quite literally on top of one another.
The night before had been exceedingly difficult, we were being PT'd before the sun came up on this morning and our bodies were being taxed, even as Marines, and now this assholes to elbows bullshit.
I was the second squad leader; I looked at the guys on each side of me and said, "Hey, f*ck these guys, don't march when they say forward march".
They both replied, "What?"
Honestly, I could have just attacked these two abusive jerks from the CCU staff myself. It didn't take a lot of convincing with my fellow Marines, after all we were Marine shitbird troublemakers; the word spread down the platoon.
The skinny corporal who was the worst of this crew, yelled "Forward March!" and we didn't move. He screamed at the top of his shrill voice, "Goddammit, I said forward march you pieces of shit, what the f*ck is wrong with all of you?"
We slowly broke formation and began walking toward the two NCO's, who were standing between our platoon and the CCU. They quickly shut their mouths and stood by as we quietly walked into the barracks we lived in and sat down.
"Holy shit" is the first thing I recall another Marine confinee saying after we all had moved back into the barracks. We could hear the CCU Marines in the building with us, probably in their offices down the hall, but they didn't enter the squad bay where we were located.
Within just ten or fifteen minutes, the African-American gunnery sergeant whom I got along well with, came to the barracks and immediately approached me.
"King, what in the Hell were you thinking about? Those guys are charging you with MUTINY, do you have any idea what that means?"
"Not really", I replied.
"It means years and years at Fort Leavenworth. This is the United States Marine Corps, you can't just decide that you are going to disobey an order and talk the platoon into doing the same thing, Christ! You really did it this time".
And this is where I made my move; one that likely allows me to be sitting here now. I looked at the gunny and said, "Gunny, you have no idea what those guys are like to us. They were tripping Marines that were running the stairs after going like 300 laps. They're bastards and if they want to write me up that is fine, but I think you know my family is from the local area and the first chance I get, I am going to call the LA Times and tell them about the abusive crap taking place here at CC and I guess we'll have to see what happens."
I don't think I really appreciated the position I had placed myself in at the time. Today I look back at it and can imagine really doing nothing else. Authority is not real when it is misused. The people who are willing to break the law in the process of enforcing it, are no better than the convicts.
The gunny left us in the squad bay and came back a few minutes later, presumably after telling the other CCU guys that I was going to rat their behavior out to the media. The gunny took us out to the bleachers and let us smoke a few cigarettes.
Not of course, until after the obligatory CCU cigarette chant:
"Sir, the surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking can be hazardous to your health, and we don't give a rat's ass... sir".
In Marine Corps talk I "skated" on this one, and that is good. I am glad I stood up to those assholes and I hope in a way that it set an example for the other Marines who were there that day. Like me, five minutes to a formation, they were in some cases, just scared young guys going from the frying pan to the fire. It was good to be able to have a level of control in all of that madness.
Red Badge confinees at CCU at Camp Pendleton (Which is currently closed due to the wars overseas- so much for remotivation) are supposed to be released early but I was allowed to stay instead, for the full thirty days. Finally it was over and two MP's from El Toro had driven down to Pendleton to pick me up and take me back to my base. My gear was laid out and waiting, and my white tennis shoes were tied to my sea bag (Marine duffel bag) as per protocol. As I went to place my gear in the van, one of the CCU NCO's took one of my shoes and tossed it up on the roof of this ancient wooden barracks.
"Go get it!"
I had no choice, so to the great entertainment of everyone there, I took my life in my hands and climbed to the roof, got my shoe, and headed back down the ladder. One of the MP's in typical fashion looked at me and said, "Hey man, we need to go".
After all it was Friday afternoon and these guys had plans. Of course I hadn't been the asshole who threw the shoe on the roof. As I reached the van, that sergeant threw my other tennis shoe on the roof. There was no leaving it up there, so before I left CCU, I climbed the crappy ladder twice and wondered if the ladder was going to hold each time.
It is a small world and I suspect it is possible one or more person who was in CCU with me might read this, if so I would appreciate hearing from you.
Welcome to the Marine Corps, the side that you rarely hear about.
I suggest finishing college and joining the Peace Corps instead.
Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer
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