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NORFOLK, VA. — A commanding officer in Illinois was removed from the job after hazing three reservists by ordering them to exercise and yell “I do what I want” in front of other sailors because they missed physical training, a Navy report said.
Lt. Cmdr. Jack O’Neill was relieved of command of Navy Operational Support Center Rock Island in Illinois on March 19. O’Neill was upset several sailors missed physical training during a drill weekend March 9, an investigative report released by Navy Reserve Forces Command in Norfolk said.
The sailors who had to exercise said they were embarrassed, and others who watched the ordeal described it as awkward and uncomfortable.
“It gave you a queasy feeling; it just wasn’t the right thing to do,” a witness, whose name was redacted from the report, told investigators.
The incident happened just weeks after the Navy created the Office of Hazing Prevention in an effort to track and stop the practice.
The Navy’s definition of hazing is an extensive one. Among other things, it defines hazing as causing another military member to be exposed to any activity that is humiliating or demeaning. The definition excludes command-authorized physical training and administrative corrective measures.
Statistics released Wednesday show there have been 27 reported incidents of hazing in the Navy in the 2013 fiscal year. Of those, 15 were categorized as physical; one was humiliating and demeaning; five were a combination of those and six haven’t been categorized.
The day after the incident, O’Neill apologized and performed the same exercise in front of those who witnessed it a day earlier. He also yelled “I do what I want” in an effort to make amends, according to the report.
“I deeply regret the incident and cannot offer any explanation as to why I approached something like this without thinking it over longer, as I tend to be very analytical typically,” O’Neill wrote in a statement to Navy investigators.
Still, that coupled along with other problems in the command climate that negatively affected Rock Island’s morale resulted in O’Neill being disciplined.
“Naval officers are rightfully held to the highest standards of personal conduct,” Capt. George Whitbred, commander of Navy Region Midwest Reserve Component Command, wrote in a letter endorsing the investigation’s findings. “O’Neill’s conduct in humiliating and mortifying his sailors shows a complete lapse in judgment and a failure to conduct himself in accordance with the high standards of a naval officer.”
The report was obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.