Staff Sgt. Angel Olmo, a drill instructor of Platoon 1001, Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, works to instill discipline in his recruits during an incentive training session. (Lance Cpl. MaryAnn Hill/Marine Corps Recruit Depot)
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Sgt. Korey Bromery was fuming. When he came upon his recruits horsing around in the squad bay bathroom, he ordered the entire platoon — some 70 men — into the showers where he made them run in place. For added discomfort, he thickened the air by dumping bleach down the drains.
This incentive-training session happened in 2012 at Parris Island, S.C., one of the Marine Corps’ two recruit depots. It lasted less than five minutes, and no one was hurt, but it’s likely going to cost Bromery his military career.
His actions violated the service’s rules governing drill instructor conduct. As the platoon’s “heavy hat,” a position one tier below senior DI, Bromery was not authorized to IT more than 10 recruits at a time. And the use of bleach, a noxious cleaning agent, could have done some serious damage had any of it splashed in someone’s eye.
Cause for concern? Sure. But in December, after a months-long investigation, Bromery’s command sent him to a general court-martial, the most severe form of military trial. “I’m getting treated at the level of people that rape or are involved in murder cases are treated,” Bromery said. Even the judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, who has overseen hundreds of trials throughout his career, called the move excessive, according to a record of the proceedings obtained by Marine Corps Times.
Bromery, who acknowledged making poor decisions that day, was found guilty of maltreatment. The judge imposed no punishment and went so far as to write Parris Island’s commanding general, Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, recommending she disregard the conviction, but the Corps has begun the process of administratively separating him from the service anyhow.
Reynolds said she is duty-bound to hold drill instructors accountable when they break the rules. Indeed, there is heightened pressure on commands to swiftly and aggressively address allegations of abuse in the ranks — not only at boot camp but throughout the service — since sweeping revisions were made last summer to the service’s anti-hazing order. But DIs and others question whether this reaction is so severe it will distract these Marines from carrying out their mission and ensuring the recruits in their charge leave boot camp as disciplined, dependable war fighters.
In addition to Bromery, at least five other DIs were pulled from the drill field in connection with the incident. Sgt. Jeffrey VanDyke faces a general court-martial in February, accused of burning a recruit with bleach while IT-ing him. Sgt. Michael Mondt, who worked for Bromery, and Gunnery Sgt. Mike Montanez, a senior DI on a different deck, remain in administrative limbo after conspiracy charges against them were dropped.
A third sergeant received nonjudicial punishment, while another gunny has since been allowed to return to work.
“It’s affecting climate big-time,” Bromery said, “because it’s making drill instructors afraid of doing anything — I’m not saying doing something illegal — but they’re afraid they’re going to have their career taken away for something minor.”
A career-changing mistake
Bromery was selected to serve as the senior drill instructor of Platoon 1072, Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, toward the fall of 2012. The decision from his leaders was a testament to his reputation during five training cycles and 13 months as a receiving drill instructor.
That December, VanDyke, a green-belt DI in his charge, allegedly poured bleach near a recruit, according to Bromery’s record of trial. The recruit ended up with skin burns on his leg and buttocks, and Bromery immediately reported the incident up his chain of command, he said.
VanDyke was removed from his post pending the investigation that ensued, first led by the command and later by Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
About a week after he reported the problem, Bromery, Mondt, Montanez and several other DIs with the training battalion were removed from their posts. They were charged with conspiracy — believed to be hiding incidents of illegal IT — and had their special duty pay suspended. Investigators had learned about Bromery’s IT incident, which occurred during a cycle about eight months prior.
During Bromery’s proceedings last month, Jones, the judge, took the unusual step of commenting in the court record how he found it inappropriate for Bromery to be facing a general court-martial. He said that having served as a judge for about 700 courts-martial, he had never seen a case on that level reach a general court-martial.
“For all accounts, the Marine is an outstanding Marine with outstanding military character and — who is probably in the most stressful and difficult job in the Marine Corps who had a momentary lapse of judgment for a few moments,” Jones said during the court-martial. “... We must realize that nobody was physically hurt.”
The Corps should not lose Bromery, he added, and offered to write a letter to Reynolds on the sergeant’s behalf. In his letter, dated Dec. 13, Jones told the general that Bromery should receive nonjudicial punishment or a written counseling entry for his actions.
“It is in my opinion that he should not receive a federal felony conviction for this misconduct,” Jones wrote.
Gary Solis, a retired lieutenant colonel who served as a military judge, likened the command’s decision to send Bromery to general court-martial to “using a sledgehammer on a mosquito.”
“Even from afar,” Solis said, “it appears a clear and simple case of over-charging that badly needs correction. This case doesn’t set an example; it discourages and alienates every DI in the command.”
Solis, who served as judge advocate and military judge for more than 750 cases, said such action from a military judge is unheard of in his experience. In hearing about the case and reading Jones’ statements and letter, Solis said he also finds the trial forum for Bromery’s case inappropriate, the offense “clearly not meriting a federal felony conviction.”
Military judges almost always have more experience with the Uniform Code of Military Justice than the convening authority, and often more than the convening authority’s legal adviser, Solis said. Yet they have no authority to correct such apparent misjudgments if a case is sent to an inappropriate forum, he added.
“I applaud Lieutenant Colonel Jones’ actions,” Solis said. “Having had the courage to take the rare action he has, the judge makes the question simple: Will the [convening authority] have the grace, courage and good sense to correct his/her initial misjudgment and set aside the conviction in favor of minor administrative action?”
Jones declined to be interviewed for this story.
Bromery said he and his attorneys sent a clemency package to Reynolds, which included the letter from Jones. But about two weeks ago, he received an administrative separation package, he said. He said he feels that Reynolds is punishing him for VanDyke’s alleged mistakes.
The general responds
Reynolds declined to comment on Bromery’s case because it is going through the post-trial process. However, she told Marine Corps Times that drill instructors must lead by example, and that anyone “willfully and recklessly violating known orders is inconsistent with that idea.”
“So when you find a drill instructor who is willing to sacrifice that reputation by an arrogant, immature, willful and careless decision to train his or her own way, I owe it to the other drill instructors to sit that Marine down as quickly as I can,” Reynolds said.
She emphasized the good behavior of most drill instructors, and said incidents of misconduct aboard the depot are the exception.
“Every day on Parris Island, countless unnoticed ‘right’ decisions are being made by drill instructors, who have completely bought into the importance of their mission here and the strategic value they are to our Corps and its future,” she added.
Montanez, the gunny, said he found the vast majority of DIs aboard Parris Island to be incredibly dedicated and focused on churning out good Marines. When word got around about the the recruit who was burned, the DIs there were bothered, he said. But the attention it drew might have contributed to the way their cases are being handled, he added.
“This is just an opinion, but I think when that happened, it was kind of a high-profile incident because a recruit legitimately got hurt, and that was horrible,” he said.
DIs foresee fallout
Drill instructors aboard Parris Island know everything that goes on there, Montanez said. If a zero-defects mindset takes hold, he added, good Marines may leave the assignment with unwarranted blemishes on their records.
As a staff noncomissioned officer, Montanez said he worries that people will look at Bromery’s case and think they could face trouble with their own careers if they report violations to the command. When the investigation began, he said, officials at Parris Island cast a wide net to try to pull in anyone else who might have even a slight connection to the wrongdoing.
Reynolds said she doesn’t want that to be the takeaway from this case.
“Properly holding Marines accountable for willful violations of the recruit training order,” she said, “should never be seen as a threat to these hard-working drill instructors.”
Bromery said he worries that the pressure to deal with hazing at the command level could leave other good Marines in his situation. The revised order makes clear that leaders will be held accountable if hazing or other inappropriate behavior is found in their ranks and not dealt with. His civilian defense attorney, John Hafemann, said he felt this renewed emphasis played a role in Bromery’s case being sent to a general court-martial.
“My gut tells me what’s happening now in cases involving hazing or sexual assault is that there is a ton of pressure on commanders to take swift and decisive action,” he said. “And if they don’t, they’re afraid they’re going to lose their job or get axed, get fired.”
Bromery, Mondt and Montanez have a combined 35 years in the Marine Corps. Even with the charges against Mondt and Montanez dropped, the two say they have been denied promotions and re-enlistments.
Mondt, an infantryman, said he has been unable to pick up rank to staff sergeant despite a good record and multiple combat deployments. He was hoping to complete 20 years in the Corps, he said, but now fears his career will be over in six months.
Montanez said he went to Parris Island as a staff NCO ready to do things by the book. With three years left until he can retire from the Marine Corps, he said he’s now worried he won’t be able to finish his career.
“Honestly, if this article comes out and my name is in it, it could possibly hurt me in some way, but I really feel that Sergeant Bromery was wronged in this whole scenario,” Montanez said. “There was no injury, there was no property damage, there was nothing.”
Bromery said he takes full responsibility for his mistake, but doesn’t want to be used as a scapegoat for people who make far worse or repeated mistakes when on drill instructor duty.
“If this ended in an NJP or counseling, I’m definitely willing to accept it and take responsibility,” Bromery said. “But to be punished so severely with a general court-martial and federal conviction just makes me feel like they’re making an example out of me.”