A year ago, Pvt. Tanner Frederick had his face smashed into the ground during a smoke session at the hands of his team leader, who would go on to lose a rank.
But in the final days before his own separation from the Army, Frederick spoke out about the alleged hazing he feels he suffered and the permanent injuries he says he’ll now have to deal with as a civilian.
Frederick, 23, told Cleveland’s WOIO news station that he was at Fort Polk, Louisiana’s Joint Readiness Training Center with his Fort Riley, Kansas-based unit last November when he witnessed his corporal and others vandalizing vehicles. When he threatened to report them, Frederick said, the NCO forced him to perform push-ups for hours, slamming his head three times into the ground when he was ready to collapse.
“I thought he was going to kill me,” he told WOIO, providing medical records that show he suffers from a traumatic brain injury as a result.
Frederick did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Army Times.
Fort Polk’s military police investigated the incident, finding that the corporal had assaulted Frederick. The NCO was removed from his team leader position, demoted to specialist and sentenced to 45 days extra duty by his battalion commander. He was discharged in April, Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, a 1st Infantry Division spokesman, told Army Times on Monday.
“He should have been arrested and put in jail,” Pamela Frederick, Tanner’s mother, told WOIO, “He should have been court-martialed and charged with assault. I believe attempted murder."
Commanders have total authority when following up on the results of an investigation, and, in many cases, will defer to a non-judicial punishment in the interest of expedience.
Still, the question of whether commanders are relying too much on Article 15 proceedings has been at the forefront lately. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on leaders to lean more on the military justice system in an August memo sent to the services' top officials.
As for the Frederick family’s allegations of hazing, what happened at Fort Polk did not meet the Army’s official definition, which would have required a pervasive, systematic or ritualistic element in order to be defined as more than a simple assault.
Frederick claims that his leadership pressured him to explain his injuries as an accidental fall, but records show he never disclosed that to the military police who took his report, Kelley said.
He first made that claim in an open-door meeting with his brigade commander in late October, Kelley added, to discuss Frederick’s pending involuntary discharge, based on two Article 15s he received earlier this year, independent of last year’s assault.
“At that meeting, Pvt. Frederick alleged that his separation was a consequence of his decision to report the assault back in November of the previous year,” Kelley said. “The brigade commander immediately directed an investigation and appointed an impartial field grade officer from a different battalion to conduct the inquiry. This investigation is ongoing.”
In May, his company commander found him guilty of making a false official statement regarding an unauthorized absence. In June, his battalion commander found him guilty of seven counts of misconduct, including disrespecting an officer, disobeying an NCO, failing to report for duty and lying four separate times about his whereabouts.
“Based on this pattern of misconduct, the command initiated an administrative separation action under Army Regulation 635-200 14-12b in September 2018,” Kelley said, adding that Frederick has declined to retain a military attorney to defend himself, nor has he sought to appeal his prior punishments.
Army regulations recommend an "other than honorable” discharge under the circumstances, Kelley said, but the brigade commander decided on the “general” characterization, which entitles him to VA health and home loan benefits. As he served less than two years on active duty, he would not be eligible for the GI bill.
“I just wanted to be here, do my job, serve my country honorably," Frederick told WOIO. “Dishonorable men made that impossible.”
Frederick declined to have his separation put on hold while his chain of command investigates his allegations of retaliation, Kelley added. He was scheduled to receive his discharge on Wednesday.