Top enlisted, commander at Parris Island recruit training dismissed
HILTON HEAD, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — The Marine Corps dismissed not only the colonel responsible for all recruit training at Parris Island, but also the sergeant major of the recruit training regiment, in the aftermath of the March death of a recruit.
Col. Paul D. Cucinotta was relieved of command Monday, according to Corps spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena. In an email to the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, Pena wrote that Cucinotta was relieved by Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, Commanding General, Training and Education Command, who cited “a loss of trust and confidence in (Cucinotta’s) ability to serve.”
Pena said a “command investigation” “initiated following the death of recruit (Raheel) Siddiqui” led to Cucinotta’s dismissal, as well as that of Recruit Training Regiment Sgt. Maj. Nicholas A. Deabreau.
Cucinotta’s relief comes nearly three months after Michigan recruit Raheel Siddiqui’s death, and a little more than two months after Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon was relieved of command.
More recently, a recruit attacked a comrade in sick bay and was later involved in a second incident that led to his separation from the Marine Corps.
In a June 6 reply to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) — who wrote the Corps in early April to inquire about the investigation into Siddiqui’s death — Brig. Gen. David J. Furness wrote the relief of command “was based on facts made known to the Commanding General, Training and Education Command relating to instances where policies and procedures were not followed.”
When asked what specific policies and procedures were not followed, Pena replied: “The policies and procedures were cited information received from an ongoing investigation ... . Therefore, the Marine Corps cannot provide any further specifics at this time.”
When asked if Cucinotta’s dismissal was related in any way to Siddiqui’s death, Pena replied: “The relief of Col. Cucinotta was based on information related to instances in which policies and procedures were not followed (and) made known to Maj. Gen. Lukeman during the course of an ongoing command investigation. The investigation into the death of recruit Siddiqui remains open, and the Marine Corps cannot provide any further specifics at this time.”
Siddiqui, 20, died March 18, just 11 days after arriving at Parris Island. According to the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, he died after an almost 40-foot fall during recruit training.
In April, Nabih Ayad, a Detroit attorney working with Siddiqui’s family, said the family was questioning the information it had received from Parris Island. He said that Siddiqui had been awakened with a “violent smack to the face” after passing out during a training drill, moments before his death.
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Ayad declined to comment on Cucinotta’s dismissal, but he said he expected to meet with NCIS officials soon.
In addition to the revelation about Cucinotta’s relief of command, Furness’ letter offered new insight into the investigation into Siddiqui’s death.
Furness, writing on behalf of Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, said there were two ongoing investigations in the wake of the death: an NCIS investigation and a “Line of Duty” investigation.
When asked the status of the Line of Duty investigation, including a timeline for its completion, Pena replied: “The investigation into the death of recruit Siddiqui is ongoing. Thus, it would be inappropriate to provide any further specifics as this time.”
“The NCIS investigation is expected to continue for some time,” Furness wrote. The Siddiqui family will be able to request a copy of the investigation report by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to NCIS once the investigation is complete, he said.
NCIS has continued to say its investigation is ongoing and that no foul play is suspected. An email and two telephone attempts to reach spokesperson Ed Buice on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Dingell had first written to Neller on April 4 and requested a response by April 18. In her letter she expressed concerns that hazing could have been involved in Siddiqui’s death.
On Monday, Furness wrote that “it would be premature to comment given that the investigations are still pending. I can assure you that any indication of hazing will be carefully investigated.”