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Former Parris Island drill instructor pleads guilty to misconduct

Nearly two months after Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix was sentenced to 10 years in prison for physically abusing recruits at Parris Island, another former drill instructor who helped put him away has been sentenced to 45 days’ restriction and reduction in rank to corporal.

Sgt. Michael Eldridge pleaded guilty at a summary court-martial to failing to obey a lawful general order, maltreatment and disorderly conduct, Training and Education Command announced on Friday.

He is in the process of being administratively separated from the Marine Corps.

Initially, Eldridge also was charged with making a false statement, and he had been referred to a general court-martial, reserved for the most serious offenses, but he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors that required him to testify against Felix.

Both Eldridge and Felix were accused of ordering a Muslim Marine to climb inside a commercial dryer, which was turned on three times. The drill instructors refused to let the Marine out until he said he no longer was a Muslim.

Former Staff Sgt. Aaron Galipeau, who also was a Parris Island drill instructor, testified that he, Eldridge and Felix drank Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and then Felix and Eldridge ordered recruits to run into the dryer room, packed so close together that the three drill instructors literally had to walk on top of them. Galipeau had also been accused of abusing recruits, but he was not charged per a pretrial agreement with prosecutors.

Felix’s lead defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Clay Bridges, unsuccessfully tried to persuade jurors that Eldridge committed many of the alleged instances of abuse that Felix was accused of, yet Eldridge was receiving light punishment in return for implicating Felix.

“A drowning man will grasp at straws,” Bridges told jurors. “Sgt. Eldridge is surely that.”

Eldridge is one of seven Marines referred to a court-martial for the Parris Island hazing scandal, which blew up in March 2016 when Muslim recruit Raheel Siddiqui jumped to his death.

Felix had ordered Siddiqui to run to one end of the squad bay and back after Siddiqui was unable to give the greeting of the day due to his sore throat. When Siddiqui collapsed to the floor, Felix slapped him, after which Siddiqui jumped up, ran to a nearby stairwell and leapt over the railing, falling nearly 40 feet.

Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, former commander of the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, faces a general court-martial on charges stemming from incidents leading up to Siddiqui’s death.

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