“No Marine left behind,” it’s not just a saying or a slogan; it’s a way of life.
And over the centuries, a lot of Marines have risked their lives, and some have lost their lives, carrying out that statement of belief, by making sure a wounded colleague was not left alone to die on a battlefield.
But service in the U.S. Marine Corps involves more than just battlefield heroism in conflict zones, and critics say, it’s often on the homefront or on non-combat assignments overseas that some Marines do, effectively get left behind, specifically Marines with mental illness and Marines who have suffered from sexual assault.
Worse, these critics say, is that Marines in need of mental health care, Marines – men and women – who have been sexually harassed or abused, are left behind, not by frightened fellow-fighters fleeing for their lives, but by the Corps itself.
A young Marine Corporal named Thae Ohu suffers from severe mental illness that has destroyed what was once a promising military career. Cpl. Ohu’s mental health issues predate her acceptance into the Corps, but her performance won consistently high marks, and she moved swiftly up the ranks to sergeant. There were problems – growing dependence on alcohol, and a series of emotional breakdowns – and a series of applications for mental health services.
But only after Sgt. Ohu had accumulated a dozen complaints about her alleged bullying, favoritism and often out of control management style did her superiors pay attention. After a hearing they busted Sgt. Ohu to Corporal.
Harsh punishment considering Thae Ohu – as part of her application for a medical retirement from the Corps – would be diagnosed with “persistent depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder” by a military mental health team considering her application for retirement. And the cause of her stress, said a psychologist on the retirement examination team
was “her military sexual assault years earlier.”
The team’s report – which unanimously recommended Ohu be granted a medical retirement – noted that Thae Ohu came to the Corps with issues, but it says in all capital letters – “CRITICALLY IMPORTANT NOTE – she did not demonstrate the emergence of [serious mental illness] until after her experience of military sexual assault while stationed in Okinawa.”
Thae Ohu had presented her rape case to the Marine Corps chain of command and its criminal justice system, as she had asked her superiors, and the Marines’ mental health services for help with her recurrent and growing problems. “She was suicidal and needed help,” says her sister, a career Petty Officer in the Navy. “Instead of doing their job … they didn’t back her up. … They left a Marine behind.”
But the story gets worse, for Cpl. Ohu and for the reputations of the Marine justice system and for the mental health service available to the men and women of the U.S. Marines.
Thomas Brennan is the founder of The War Horse, an award-winning newsroom educating the public on military service through journalism, public forums, and writing seminars. Brennan served as a U.S. Marine who fought during the Second Battle of Fallujah and suffered a traumatic brain injury on a foot patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Throughout my recovery, he wrote publicly about his mental health and moral injury in a series of award-winning reflections for The New York Times.