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Boot Camp Commander Heads to Trial in Parris Island Hazing Case

Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A Marine recruit training battalion commander who was fired last year amid a massive hazing scandal at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, will face court-martial, accused of failing to remove a senior drill instructor who was implicated in recruit abuse.

Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon will face charges of failure to obey a lawful general order, false official statement, and conduct unbecoming an officer, officials with Marine Corps Training and Education Command said Thursday night in a news release. His arraignment date has yet to be set. Marine Corps Times was first to report the charges.

Kissoon was one of three senior leaders fired amid widespread hazing allegations within 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, which Kissoon commanded. The worst of the accusations involved Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who allegedly threw a Muslim recruit in an industrial dryer in a nighttime interrogation-style hazing ritual. Felix was later implicated in a Marine Corps investigation that found drill instructor mistreatment may have provided the impetus for the suicide of another Muslim recruit, 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui, in March 2016.

What happened between the two alleged incidents may determine Kissoon's fate. In a June 5 preliminary hearing held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, the former commander of Parris Island's Recruit Training Regiment testified that he had given a directive to move Felix and two other drill instructors into duties away from recruits while officials investigated the 2015 dryer incident.

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"I said something along the lines of, 'These Marines will not go back on the deck in terms of leading a platoon until the investigation is complete,'" Cucinotta said during the hearing.

Cucinotta was also relieved of duty in the wake of the hazing scandal. He, like his senior enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Deabreu, received a grant of immunity in order to testify in Kissoon's case.

After Siddiqui's tragic death, it became clear that, while Felix was temporarily reassigned to administrative duties, he was ultimately returned to his work as a drill instructor, allegedly without Cucinotta's knowledge.

Kissoon had a reputation as a caring and competent officer who during his tenure at 3rd Recruit Training Battalion had told his subordinates repeatedly that hazing represented a "red line" that could not be crossed, witnesses said. However, as established by Kissoon's attorney, Colby Vokey, in cross-examination, drill instructors were in chronic short supply at Parris Island and having experienced manpower on the sidelines presented a challenge for leadership.

While Kissoon did not testify on his own behalf in during the Article 32 preliminary hearing, Cucinotta recalled an exchange in which he had confronted Kissoon about his decision to reinstate Felix.

"I asked him, why didn't we talk about that," Cucinotta testified. "[Kissoon] said, 'Had we talked about that, I would have tried to convince you to let [Felix] come back.'"

Felix is set to face general court-martial at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina later this summer on charges including hazing and maltreatment and drunk and disorderly conduct.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com.

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