An observational study of more than 3,000 healthy US Marine recruits revealed that it’s possible for young people to get COVID-19 twice, although those who have had it before have a lower risk of infection.
Around 10% of recruits who previously had COVID-19 were reinfected during a six-week observation period. In comparison, 50% of recruits who had not been previously infected tested positive during the study.
The crowded living conditions of the military bases where the observations took place likely contributed to a higher overall infection rate, but the study authors said the risk of reinfection applies to young people everywhere.
Antibodies provide some protection
Among the recruits – mostly men aged 18-20 – 189 entered the study seropositive, meaning they were previously infected with the coronavirus and had antibodies in their blood.
Most people have an antibody response to infection, where the immune system produces proteins to fight off specific intruders if they return in the future. Antibodies may wane in the months after infection, but the immune system has other protective measures in place.
Commander Andrew Letizia, an infectious disease physician and lead researcher on the study, told Insider the team measured antibodies as proof of previous infection. However, he said some recruits previously tested positive but no longer had detectable antibodies at the time of the study, so the 10% reinfection rate may be an underestimate.
Those who were reinfected with COVID-19 had lower antibody levels compared to those who were previously sick and did not get reinfected.
“Antibodies are certainly protective, but they do not mean that you’re going to be bulletproof,” Letizia said. “You can still potentially get reinfected.”
Reinfection is about one-fifth as likely as a new infection
Based on the study of Marine recruits, the authors concluded that young people who have antibodies are about five times less likely to get infected than those who do not have antibodies. Studies in other populations have produced similar findings.
A preprint study of British healthcare workers, which has not yet been reviewed, found those who had not been previously infected with COVID-19 had a five times higher risk of being infected compared to people who had a past infection.
A study of 4 million people in Denmark found that COVID-19 infection afforded people under the age of 65 around 80% protective immunity after six months. Older people were only 47% protected from reinfection.
A large number of US Marines are choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, CNN reported.
About 40% of Marines who have been offered a shot, or 48,000, have so far declined a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus. Of the 123,500 Marines who have been offered a vaccine, about 75,500 agreed to get one, according to data obtained by CNN.
Over 100,000 Marines have yet to be offered a vaccine, the network said.
“We fully understand that widespread acceptance of the Covid-19 vaccine provides us with the best means to defeat the pandemic. The key to addressing the pandemic is building vaccine confidence,” Marine Corps spokesperson Col. Kelly Frushour said in a statement to CNN.
Marines might decline COVID-19 vaccines for several reasons, Frushour said. They might prefer others to receive priority for it or are choosing to wait until it’s institutionally mandated. They could also be allergic or have already secured a vaccine through other channels, CNN reported.
“Service members who decline one day can change their mind and become vaccinated when next the opportunity presents itself,” Frushour added.
The Marine Corps did not immediately return a request for comment from Insider.
In February, a top Pentagon official said about a third of all US troops had at the time refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Acceptance rates are somewhere in the two-thirds territory,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, the Joint Staff’s vice director for operations, told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the Defense Department’s response to the pandemic.
The vaccine is not compulsory for service members, but Taliaferro told Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican lawmaker on the committee, that the military must do better “to help them understand the benefits.”
The military’s acceptance rate at the time, however, was higher than that of the general population. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, general population vaccination rates hovered around 50% at the time Taliaferro made his remarks earlier this year.
The coronavirus has infected more than 31 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 561,000 Americans have died from it. About 19% of the US population has been fully vaccinated so far, JHU data says.
Insider’s Bill Bostock contributed to this report.
Marines at a Southern California military base are being investigated for possible ties to missing explosives and ammunition.
A sergeant at Camp Pendleton is in custody and facing charges, and another service member is awaiting a federal hearing in connection to the case, said 2nd Lt. Kyle McGuire, a spokesman for 1st Marine Division.
Sgt. Gunnar Naughton, with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, currently is confined to the brig, McGuire said. Naughton faced an Article 32 fact-finding hearing on March 19 and has been charged with larceny and military property-related offenses, he added.
Charges also have been preferred against a second member of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, but an Article 32 hearing has not yet been scheduled. The Marine Corps declined to provide a list of the charges or any personal information prior to the hearing.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service is continuing their investigation into this matter, and I’m therefore unable to provide additional information,” McGuire said.
ABC 10News in San Diego, citing an unnamed source, reported that at least five reconnaissance Marines at Camp Pendleton are under investigation for possible ties to the explosives, and thousands of rounds of military-grade ammunition were found to be missing at their base.
One Marine, the outlet reported, allegedly tried to sell the ammo online, but was caught “in a sting operation that was set up by federal agents.”
A spokesman at NCIS declined to provide any details about the missing materials or reported sting operation.
“Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on ongoing investigations,” Jeff Houston said.
Bethany Payton-O’Brien, a San Diego-based attorney, told ABC 10News she’s representing a staff sergeant who let another Marine rent space on his land for a trailer. The location was later raided, she told the station.
Payton-O’Brien told Military.com her client, Staff Sgt. Alexander Czub, was released from the brig on March 4 after serving a month in pretrial confinement. Czub has not been charged with any offenses relating to the missing ammunition or explosives at Camp Pendleton, she added.
“My client is not connected with the alleged conspiracy involving … Naughton or the attempted selling of government ammunition by [another Marine],” she said. “Based on the investigation provided to us so far by the government, there appears to be no connection between the 29 Palms case and Camp Pendleton Marines. The government has still not provided us with all evidence in this case despite numerous requests.”
McGuire said no other hearing or trial dates have been set in connection to the case. The preliminary hearing officer for Naughton’s Article 32 must review his case and make a recommendation to the convening authority regarding the charges. The convening authority on the case, or the officer overseeing the prosecutions, is Maj. Gen. Roger Turner Jr., 1st Marine Division’s commanding general.
Those steps will determine whether the case proceeds to court-martial.
“It is not uncommon for charges to change between an Article 32 hearing and subsequent court-martial,” McGuire added.
The service awarded Barrett Firearms Manufacturing in Tennessee a five-year, $49.9 million contract for 2,800 MRAD sniper rifles under the Precision Sniper Rifle program, which also includes the Leupold & Stevens Mark 5 HD scope and sniper accessory kit, the Army said Wednesday.
The main difference between the MRAD and other sniper rifles is that it can be chambered in 7.62 x 51 mm NATO, .300 Norma Magnum, and .338 Norma Magnum ammunition, giving the shooter greater flexibility without changing weapons.
“Army snipers will be able to conduct a barrel change and select calibers based on their mission operating environment,” the Army said in a statement Wednesday.
The new rifle is, according to the Army, “an extreme range weapon system that is lighter than current sniper rifles and includes features that will mask the sniper signature for improved survivability.”
The Mk 22 will replace the Army’s bolt-action M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle from Remington Arms and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle from Barrett.
“It’s an awesome gun,” an experienced Army sniper told Insider last year. “I can tell you I never saw anything on that gun that I didn’t like. It shoots phenomenally well. What it does, as far as barrel changes and things like that go, is pretty exceptional.”
The Mk 22 is a “good gun coming at a good time that is going to increase efficiency and capabilities,” he said. “We’re excited about it.”
Special Operations Command was the first to express interest in the new modular, multi-caliber sniper rifle. In March 2019, SOCOM awarded Barrett a $49.9 million contract for the MRAD rifle through its Advanced Sniper Rifle program.
The command sent an initial production order for the new rifles to Barrett in November 2020 after the company completed production qualification and operational testing, meeting the requirements of the Department of Defense.
“We are pleased to have reached this milestone with the project and look forward to providing our warfighters with this highly capable platform,” Joel Miller, Barrett’s director of global military sales, said in a statement at the time.
The Marines has also shown interest in the weapon.
The Marines expect the new rifle to “replace all current bolt-action sniper rifles in the Marine Corps,” according to last year’s budget request.
In the budget documents, the Marines wrote that the new rifles offer “extended range, greater lethality, and a wider variety of special purpose ammunition.”
The Army said in its budget request that the weapon “increases stand-off distances ensuring overmatch against enemy counter sniper engagements and increases sniper capability.”
When a Marine Corps assault amphibious vehicle sank off the coast of California last summer, the troops inside did not have any breathing devices. Nine US service members drowned.
The embarked service members were not carrying the devices because the Corps made the decision to get rid of them several years ago after assessing that program’s $15.9 million cost outweighed concerns about a possible catastrophe, two Corps officials told Insider.
Embarked Marines used to carry Waterborne Egress Capability (WEC) breathing systems as a component of their LPU-41 life preservers. In the event that an AAV sank, the bottled breathing devices would provide up to five minutes of air.
It is not a lot of time, but it is more than enough time to remove your gear, get your bearings, and take action, a Marine official, a former division commander, said.
Troops trying to escape a submerged vehicle can easily find themselves disoriented and struggling with their heavy gear as they desperately fight to reach the surface. A few extra minutes of air beyond what is in their lungs might be the difference between staying alive and dying.
The WEC bottled breathing device program was canceled in 2015, just four years after it began, as the Corps grappled with budget concerns.
“So 2011 to 2015, we have this program,” another Marine official, a former Marine Expeditionary Unit commander, said. “2015, if you recall where we were fiscally in 2015, we’re in sequestration.”
During the Obama administration, a deep budget cut known as sequestration impacted all federal spending, including that of the Department of Defense.
“I’m a big believer in the bottles,” the former division commander said. “But, in 2015, we were scrambling for money, looking under the cushions of the sofas, trying to make ends meet. This was a convenient thing.”
The former MEU commander explained to Insider that the Marine Corps measures risk by likelihood of occurrence and severity of outcome.
In this case, a decision was made that an accident requiring supplemental air was unlikely given the limited number and nature of fatal AAV accidents. The decision to discontinue the WEC bottled breathing device program was reassessed after tragedy struck last summer.
A tragic mishap
Last July, an AAV assigned to Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sank off the coast of California as it returned to the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset from San Clemente Island during a training exercise.
The commander of US Marine Corps Pacific blamed the sinking and the resulting deaths on “a confluence of human and mechanical failures” in a statement attached to the investigation. He added that “this tragic mishap was preventable.”
The biggest problem was that the vehicle, which was initially carrying 16 service members, was not evacuated until it was too late. The vehicle sank with 11 people still on board. All but one service member made it out, but only three made it to the surface.
The three service members who made it to the surface each suffered drowning injuries. One did not survive.
As for the troops who died without reaching the surface, all of them were wearing body armor. Some had tried to drop their gear but were unsuccessful. In addition to the problem of excess weight, the life preservers they had on were not as effective as they would normally be given the depth at which they were operated.
The Marine officials Insider talked to about the accident did not say whether or not WEC breathing devices would have made a difference and saved lives in this situation. Though the investigation was silent on this point, the Corps has, as a result of this terrible accident, changed its mind on the program, the officials said.
“It has been reinstated,” the former MEU commander revealed. “This year, we will field WEC bottles for all our MEU units.”
AAV crews are temporarily using Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Devices (HABD) borrowed from the Marine Expeditionary Force air wings, but the WEC devices are being brought back for AAV passengers and crews.
“We have on contract now – and we’ll bring back as a program of record – the full WEC system, which includes the bottles [and] the charging station for the bottles,” he said, adding that “it will be a requirement to be trained and equipped with a Waterborne Egress Capability device to be in the back of an AAV or ACV.”
The ACV, or Amphibious Combat Vehicle, is the replacement for the ageing fleet of AAVs, some of which have been around since the mid-1970s. The Corps began rolling them out ahead of schedule last October.
Since the deadly accident last summer that claimed the lives of nine service members, the Marine Corps has not conducted any waterborne operations with its amphibious vehicles. These are not expected to resume until the service has finished making changes to the way these vehicles are maintained and operated.
Marine officials have stressed repeatedly that they are committed to preventing something like what happened last July from happening again.
The Marine Corps has characterized the misconduct as the “wrongful appropriation and distribution of personal information,” with one official telling Insider that the offending actions were of a sexual nature. It apparently involved the nonconsensual distribution of photos or video, Insider learned.
“That next morning that same Marine was still the Platoon Sergeant holding formation while I hid in my room, ashamed of what had happened,” the woman wrote in her statement.
She said that the Marine was eventually removed from the installation where she was stationed but that the Corps left her in the dark on what actions were being taken.
She recalled telling her commanding officer: “I think we need a better vetting system for Uniformed Victim Advocates. I do not want to be in the same unit as this Marine when we get back to the United States.”
The woman said she learned just before she returned to the US that she would be assigned to the same office with the Marine who admitted to sexual misconduct. She was, however, able to be assigned to another unit.
In December, she testified against the Marine before a separation board, where she says she heard people defend the man, saying things like: “He made a mistake and fell into temptation, but he could be a great leader.”
The woman said the board decided to force the Marine out of the service but with an honorable discharge, an outcome she already considered unjust and unfair.
But then last Thursday, she said, she was notified that a commanding general at her installation had decided to retain the Marine “despite his crimes.” The Corps has said the separation process for the Marine is still ongoing.
Her understanding that the man is not being kicked out over the misconduct is what led her to make the TikTok video that went viral, a video in which she tearfully said: “This is exactly why f—ing females in the military f—ing kill themselves. This is exactly why nobody f—ing takes it seriously.”
II Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement Tuesday that the accusations the woman made against her fellow service member were investigated and substantiated.
“The Marine was found guilty, receiving a non-judicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He was reduced in rank, received forfeiture of pay, and was processed for administrative separation from the service,” II Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement Tuesday. “Final actions in the administrative separation process are ongoing.”
A II MEF representative confirmed that the man in question was, as the woman in the video said, a “trained Uniformed Victim Advocate.”
For the Marines, a Uniformed Victim Advocate is someone who has been trained “to provide information, guidance (referrals), and support to Marines and sailors who have been sexually assaulted,” according to the service. Support is available 24/7 to service members.
The woman, whom Insider confirmed to be a Marine sergeant, did not respond to requests for comment from Insider.
In her statement, she also said she had been sexually assaulted while in the Marines. “I have experienced Military Sexual Trauma throughout my entire time in the service,” she told CBS News.
Highlighting the severity of the sexual abuse problem in the military, she said that she has “connected with thousands of men and women who have dealt with Military Sexual Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome stemming from sexual assault and harassment while serving.”
“I am not a one in a million story,” she wrote.
CBS News reports that in 2019, there were 7,825 reports of sexual assault in the US armed forces, but only 363 of those cases, or 4.6%, ever went to court martial. Statistics for 2020 are not available, but the new defense secretary has said that addressing sexual assault and harassment is a top priority.
A year after a Marine drill instructor was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for hazing Muslim recruits, throwing one in an industrial dryer and figuring in another’s death, data shows that nearly nine out of 10 hazing reports in the military still came from within the Corps.
An annual report on hazing within the military, obtained via a public-records request, shows that the Marine Corps, the smallest Defense Department service by population with the exception of Space Force, owns the lion’s share of hazing complaints and substantiated hazing incidents. The data, from fiscal year 2018, shows that 256 of 291 total hazing complaints that year, more than 88%, were made in the Corps, and 91 of 102 substantiated hazing incidents took place among Marines.
The Navy was a distant second, with 17 complaints and 10 substantiated incidents; then the Army, with 13 complaints, none substantiated; and finally the Air Force, with five complaints, one substantiated. At the time of the reporting, 71 total complaints had been found unsubstantiated, 110 were pending a decision and eight were inconclusive or unknown.
The data, released to Military.com this month, provides what could be a troubling snapshot taken shortly after the Marines faced national scrutiny over hazing episodes at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina.
Recruit Raheel Siddiqui reportedly jumped to his own death in 2016 from the third floor of a Parris Island building after abuse at the hands of a drill instructor, who received 10 years for maltreatment and other crimes at a Parris Island court-martial. Other Marines who trained recruits were found to have inflicted chemical burns requiring skin grafts – the result of forced physical training on a bleach-covered floor – and ordered naked trainees to run back and forth, then jam together against the walls of a shower.
In all, eight drill instructors faced some level of punishment over the Parris Island hazing scandal amid national attention, and investigations resulted in a slew of recommendations for change. And that same year, a crackdown on hazing within 1st Marine Division in California resulted in at least 18 Marines getting kicked out of the Corps, and 30 spending time in the brig.
Amid all that, the 2018 data seems jarring.
But some say the information paints a more complicated picture: one of a service that is aggressively tracking abusive behavior while others overlook the problem.
The order also set a definition for hazing: a “form of harassment that … physically or psychologically injures, or creates a risk of physical or psychological injury … for the purpose of: initiation into, admission into, affiliation with, change in status or position within, or a condition for continued membership in any military or DoD civilian organization.”
The newly obtained report does not contain details on specific hazing incidents or complaints, but does break substantiated episodes into categories: physical, psychological, written, verbal and nonverbal.
In the Marine Corps, 60% of hazing incidents were physical and 32% verbal, with the remainder nonverbal. The other services had a similar breakdown; only the Navy had substantiated episodes of psychological hazing, with six incidents.
While the report doesn’t indicate the origin of hazing complaints or the dates they were made, it does contain some information on when hazing happens and who it happens to.
Unsurprisingly, almost all substantiated hazing happened on duty in 2018. Nearly 100% of military hazing victims were junior enlisted service members, in the ranks of E-4 and below and, with few exceptions, under the age of 25. While most of the perpetrators were also junior enlisted, some 20% were E-5s and E-6s, and eight offenders were senior enlisted troops or junior officers.
Within the entire Defense Department, only eight of the troops who reported being hazed were female.
While the majority of hazing offenders and complainants were white, the data does fall somewhat short. There’s no indication of the racial breakdown of victims and offenders in specific incidents, or what conditions lead to certain kinds of hazing. There’s no information, either, to indicate the severity of hazing incidents or their short- and long-term impact on victims.
What does seem evident, though, is that the 2018 data regarding the ratio of hazing reports by service is not an anomaly. A data sketch from fiscal 2017 also obtained by Military.com shows 233 out of 299 hazing reports that year came from the Marine Corps, and 109 out of 136 substantiated incidents occurred in that service.
While DoD did not release fiscal 2019 data, and a fiscal 2020 report has not yet been provided to the services, Marine Corps officials did provide data showing that reports of hazing decreased markedly within the service in 2019. That year, there were 188 total complaints in the Corps, and 47 substantiated hazing cases, officials said.
“Hazing has no place in a disciplined and professional military force and is not tolerated in any form in the Marine Corps. Hazing degrades our warfighting capabilities by destroying our Marines’ confidence and the trust they place in their fellow Marines and in their leadership. All complaints of hazing are taken seriously,” Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Military.com.
Carlock added that all hazing complaints are tracked “from the initial complaint/allegation through adjudication” and that the service stresses bystander intervention and urges Marines and sailors to report all hazing they observe.
A 2015 study by the Rand Corporation did find that the Marine Corps was the most consistent of any service apart from the Coast Guard at providing specific anti-hazing training and offering additional training at various career intervals, with annual refreshers. Gaps were still present at that point, however; the report found anti-hazing instruction in the Corps was lecture-only and lacked group discussion and structured assessment.
But the grim wake-up calls from the recent high-profile hazing incidents may mean the Marines track the issue better and more consistently than other services. That’s the contention of Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat who has made it a priority to end military hazing and increase accountability.
Chu’s nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, took his own life during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 following hazing by his peers. Three Marines faced criminal charges in the wake of his death; two were acquitted and one was sentenced to 30 days in a plea agreement.
“The real truth is that hazing in the military is still obscured by bad and incomplete data,” Chu told Military.com in a February 5 statement. She cited a Government Accountability Office report she had required showing that, as of early 2016, the Corps alone consistently tracked both substantiated and unsubstantiated hazing reports.
“This doesn’t mean that the Marines are more likely to have a hazing problem, but that the other branches fail to report theirs,” she said in the statement. “Still, what this troubling data reveals is that hazing and disunity are still pervasive problems in our military, which is bad for our national security and the health and safety of the men and women in uniform who risk everything for us.”
It’s likely, however, that culture also plays a role in the picture the data shows. The Marine Corps has the youngest average age of any service, the most male and the most junior in rank. The service prides itself on being the most physically demanding, as well, and many recruits arrive at boot camp with a perception of the Corps informed by films like “Full Metal Jacket” and “A Few Good Men” – movies in which brutal Marine Corps hazing incidents are main plot points.
In one notional example underscoring their research, they profile “Darrius Ima,” a Marine Corps drill instructor who himself was hazed as a recruit and believes he’s justified in passing down the tradition.
“Darrius believes, not only that there is a low probability of him being caught and reprimanded for the hazing but also that, and erroneously so, that the majority of the Marines community values hazing,” the authors write. ” … In sum, Darrius is morally disengaged around the issue of hazing. He tries to justify his conduct by offering a purely positive rationale for hazing – e.g., that it builds bonds.”
Parks, a professor of law at Wake Forest University and expert on all kinds of hazing who spoke to Military.com February 5, said changing a cultural perspective on an issue such as hazing can be a lengthy process.
“Organizational culture is crucial,” he said. “What are the dynamics at play within an organization over the course of maybe decades or generations, and why is it hard to disentangle that. It makes it very difficult to swim upstream and buck the system when you receive a lot of critical feedback from peers.”
He added that the military, and particularly the Marine Corps, which demands and prizes high levels of physical prowess and mental toughness, may be more prone to training and rituals that cross the line into hazing.
“There are these physical components, but there’s also the psychological aspect of putting people through the paces,” he said. “It’s probably easier to amplify that.”
The newly obtained data does indicate that being found to have hazed a peer or subordinate will affect a service member’s career, even if it doesn’t end it. For fiscal 2018, 100% of substantiated hazing offenders received some sort of discipline.
In the Marine Corps, 174 perpetrators received a total of 365 corrective or disciplinary actions. One-third of all disciplinary actions for Marines were at the administrative level, and a little more than half consisted of non-judicial punishment. Unit-level punishments are shielded from public release, and therefore difficult to track.
Some 44 Marines faced hazing-related charges at various levels of court-martial; the Corps was the only service to send anyone to court-martial over hazing.
“We continue to train and educate all Marines and instill in them that these behaviors are inconsistent with our core values and we will hold perpetrators accountable,” Carlock, the Marine Corps spokeswoman, told Military.com. “A failure to act and respond is not only inconsistent with who we are but it also degrades our traditions, threatens our cohesion and morale, and detracts from mission accomplishment.”