OKINAWA, Japan - “Keep your mouth shut! You didn’t see a thing!” These are the kind of thinly-veiled threats one Marine here endured, prayed about and eventually found the moral courage to act upon by turning in fellow Marines who were using a barracks bathroom as a hideaway to smoke the illicit drug known as Spice.
John’s story began weeks ago when another Marine, freshly out of the Camp Hansen brig where he served time on Spice-related charges, moved in to the room next door. They would be sharing a bathroom.
At first, all was quiet. After a few days though, John noticed his new neighbor seemed to be spending more and more time in the bathroom with the shower running. “The water was just running, and there was no other movement or sound,” he said. “It started happening two or three times a day for long periods.”
Sometimes, he said, he could hear his neighbor leave the bathroom, but the sound of the shower continued to drone on.
Eventually, someone would come back in, turn off the shower and retreat back to the connecting room.
It wasn’t long before the mysterious activity increased. “I started hearing other voices in the bathroom,” said John. “I started asking myself, ‘Why is there a group of guys in the bathroom with the water running?’”
With each new incident, John became more suspicious and more pieces of the puzzle came to light. “I could hear lighters and smell smoke, but not cigarette smoke,” said John. “It was different.”
When John entered the bathroom after these incidents, he sometimes noticed ashes in the toilet or on the floor. He stopped hanging his towels in the bathroom because he could not stand the way they smelled anymore. Eventually, the bathroom crew grew either more confident or more careless and stopped trying to clean up after themselves altogether. Bath mats or towels were left pushed up against the base of the door to his room – to keep the smell of smoke from entering his room, he assumed.
When he alluded to the fact that he knew what they were doing, they threatened him – demanding he remain quiet about his suspicions or face consequences. John said, by that time, he was pretty sure he knew what was going on and said plenty of other Marines had their suspicions too. One even advised him to heed the perpetrators’ warnings not to report his suspicions. “He told me I should just talk to the Marines and tell them to stop,” said John. “He was afraid the ‘higher-ups’ would secure our liberty if we reported it.”
John did not heed the threats though, or that Marine’s advice.
Instead, he decided to write an anonymous letter and submit it to his sergeant major and commanding officer through a trusted noncommissioned officer. “I knew if these guys got caught, and I didn’t say anything, I would have been swept up in it and under suspicion as well,” he said.
John waited and watched for a time, but the activity in his bathroom continued unchecked until the day came when his CO walked past John’s duty post on his way home for the evening.
“Excuse me, sir. I have a problem I need to talk about.”
One week later, John had gone to sleep after standing duty. When he woke up, he could hear the voices in the bathroom again.
John picked up the phone and called the sergeant major. The sergeant major arrived a short time later, accompanied by a duty NCO and a Criminal Investigation Division agent. The Spice users were busted.
John said he acted out of a sense of duty, not only to his command, but to his fellow Marines as well. The Marine next door who had already served in the brig for getting mixed up with Spice was not the only one living in that room. He shared it with another young Marine, fresh from his military occupational specialty school, whom John had befriended. John said he worried about him often – about whether he would fall prey to peer pressure and the effects of the drug. Unfortunately, his concerns were valid. “That was one Marine I couldn’t save in this whole ordeal,” he said.
John felt that his own roommate’s interests might be on the line if someone did not take action as well. “My roommate is a great guy,” said John. “He just got his scuba certification; how would he be able to enjoy scuba diving if he was in the brig or on restriction?”
He also notes that the command climate had much to do with him being able to muster the courage to come forward. His sergeant major had passed word in formations many times that the utmost confidentiality would be upheld for anyone who came forward with information that could help identify Spice users within the unit. “I heard about a couple of other guys who came forward and were taken care of by the sergeant major and the CO,” said John. “I feel like their support took some weight off my shoulders. It made me feel like they really wanted to help me.”
Since the incident, John’s work environment has stabilized somewhat, but he said his unit still feels the impact of the poor decisions of a few of its members. “It affects our readiness,” he said. “These Marines had important jobs to do. Now we have to pick up the slack.”
Editor’s note: The following story is true. Names have been changed or omitted to protect the anonymity of all parties involved.
This work, Marine’s courage brings Spice smokers to justice, by GySgt Michael Freeman, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.