The Unnumbered badge
Authored by: Bradley Chapline
I thought I had overcome so much in early 1977 when I was handed my graduation certificate finishing third in my class from the cross-country prisoner escort school at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
I wore the badge proudly back to my home base of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. No one had expected me to graduate. This included me, but I was going to truly give it my best shot.
But, I did have a lot of honest tutoring from one fantastic instructor who was a Technical Sergeant (E-6) in the Air Force. We burned a lot of midnight oil through most of the six week academy.
But, after graduation, as soon as I arrived back at my unit in 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, First Sergeant William Grant angrily confronted me; “Marine, what the fuck are you doing wearing that fucking piece of shit badge on your uniform? I've never heard of anything like this.”
I replied, “Top, I earned this badge at the cross-country chasers school at Ft. Benning, Georgia. I’m authorized to wear this badge.” Top ordered me to follow him. He took me straight into the Commanding Officer’s hut.
Almost immediately, my CO, Captain Church ordered me to take my badge off my uniform and never again put that on my Marine Corps uniform. As I took the badge off my jacket, my Captain took it out of my hand. Glaring at the badge for several moments where it said, “Military Marshall”, he laughed. Then moments later he said, “Where the hell did you get this phony piece of metal?”
I replied sharply, “Sir! I was issued this badge at graduation. I am now equal in authority to a U.S. Marshal.”
Captain church responded, “I got news for you Chapline, you’re not equal to a turd. I believe the only way you graduated from that academy was to cheat on the final examination. Who the fuck did you get to know and payoff down there? You’re not fooling anyone here, Chapline. I’ll just keep this phony badge as evidence while I conduct an investigation on you.”
I was furious, but had to keep my mouth shut. The last thing I needed was insubordination charges being filed against me.
After a period of three weeks, grudgingly, the Captain handed my badge back to me. He said, “Yeah, okay, you’re legit on this, but don’t you ever let me catch you wearing this badge on your uniform again. You are only authorized to have your badge in your wallet. And by the way, Chapline, that badge you have really doesn’t mean anything. It’s not even numbered.”
The Captain was right, the place where a badge number was required to be inscribed, was blank.
It was time for me to leave Camp Lejeune. I requested to be transferred to the 1st Marine Brigade, located on the island of Oahu, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Although my transfer was approved, I was told it would be approximately six months before this transfer would become effective.
Captain Church immediately put me to work as a prisoner chaser. I was never assigned a partner, and worked ungodly hours, sometimes being forced to stay awake and guard a prisoner in excess of thirty-six hours.
Captain Church nearly always made sure when I delivered one prisoner, there was another prisoner awaiting for me to take into my custody for a cross-country run.
Of course I knew full well the Captain was trying to break me. He was getting pretty close to being successful. I vividly recall more than a few times when on a commercial airliner with a military prisoner that I nodded off for a moment or two. Each time it was my prisoner who bumped my arm saying, “Man, you don’t want to get caught sleeping on this job, they’ll hang you.”
I had become so exhausted on this one commercial flight that I finally asked one of the flight attendants for help. I told her the truth. She kept me well supplied with hot coffee and cold washcloths to rub across my face in helping to keep me awake.
I had gotten to know this particular prisoner quite well while he was in my custody. He was a former Marine Corps Sergeant who was given a General court-martial for having a sexual affair with an officer’s wife. He claimed it was more because, he was black, and the officer’s wife was white. I believed him. There was a lot of racism going on in the ranks of the Marine Corps.
I classified this prisoner as an extremely low escape risk. So, the flight attendant agreed to lock my gun up in her galley and my prisoner agreed to not complain about me handcuffing him to the armrest that closely separated us. Finally, I got some good sleep. When I awakened near the end of the flight, everything was intact, and good to go. I was extremely grateful to both the flight attendant and even my prisoner.
(A side note) I heard that two years later this same prisoner was released from Ft. Leavenworth with his prior conviction and all other charges dropped. Although he was not restored to active duty as a United States Marine, his record was cleared of any wrongdoing and he was given an honorable discharge while receiving all back pay and allowances. I was glad for him. He was a good man.
In the latter part of 1977 I was never more happy than to be away from my disastrous first marriage, all the legal problems in Baltimore that came with it, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. When I finally boarded that United Airlines flight for Hawaii, I felt like finally, I would be beginning a new life upon my arrival at the Marine Corps Air Station, home of the 1st Marine Brigade, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
But, that thought was short-lived. My reception at the Kaneohe base was not a good one. Not only would I not be working as a Military Marshal in my new military occupational specialty, (MOS), I was literally shit-canned to a meaningless administrative position in the worst "ground-pounders" unit on the base.
But, in time, Marine authorities would come to me for help. Because the reputation of the Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay had a continuous mounting of black-eyes. Nearly twenty percent of all prisoner escorts on the base had resulted in some type of major breach of security and or outright escapes. They needed help in the worst kind of way. And, I had no escapes on my record in escorting prisoners. And, I was the only Marine on the base who had been formally and legitimately trained as a military marshal.
I took the position offered to me of Assistant Regional Director of Prisoner Security for the Far East region.
But, it was apparent the Marine authorities on the base did not have full confidence in my capabilities. They had appointed a Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant who knew absolutely nothing about transporting prisoners, especially on commercial international flights, to oversee my operations and duties. I pretty much ignored him. I saw him as just a "not at all" knowledgeable figurehead.
I had the Brigade Adjutant immediately put out a base wide memorandum for six openings that I established for the positions of a local Marine prisoner chaser. I would be conducting interviews and selecting the applicants. Master Gunnery Sergeant Kulich did not like this. But, I informed him, “Would you prefer to pick the best qualified candidates and train them yourself?” I got no answer. Master Gunnery Sergeant Kulick walked away from me. But, I wasn’t completely stupid. I knew, one way or another, there would be repercussions.
But, I surely didn’t have time to concern myself with that shit. I had an overwhelming amount of work and goals to accomplish in putting together a chaser program.
While I took the process slow in interviewing approximately seventy-five applicants, I also developed during this time-frame a comprehensive and rigorous training schedule. During a face-to face meeting with Master Sergeant Kulick, I advised him that the authority of these local prisoner chasers would be limited. That, they could only take custody of U.S. Marines in a minimum custody status who were assigned to only the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. They would also not be authorized to carry any type of firearm. However, all chasers would be trained in the use of all restraint equipment, and when use is warranted, i.e. handcuffs, belly chains, leg irons, etc..
The business of transporting Marines locally who were in a prisoner status from the Kaneohe Marine Base was booming. Most were charged with nonviolent crimes which I viewed to be minor charges, such as possession of marijuana, a day or two AWOL (Absent Without Leave), intoxicated on duty, and insubordination towards commissioned officers.
After six months, the prisoner escort program I had established was going extremely well. In fact, the once high escape ratio that plagued the Commanding General of Kaneohe had now dropped to absolute zero in escapes / incidents. Each one of my local prisoner chasers were presented at a formal ceremony, a Meritorious Mast. Those awards were well deserved.
For me, I was called in to Master Sergeant Kulick’s office and was told that I was not doing enough. Shocked, and a bit on the disrespectful side, I said, “And really, just how did you come to this conclusion?”
Master Sergeant Kulick responded, “Your chasers have done a great job. But, there is no record of them ever having been trained. You do know what a page eleven (administrative comments / training) is in a Marine’s service record book, don’t you?”
With contempt, I just stared at MS (Master Sergeant) Kulick.
He then said, “You have no proof whatsoever that you have trained these boys. You need to get on the stick Sergeant Chapline, do you understand me?”
I replied, angrily, “I’m already working extremely long hours, and respectfully, if you want it done Master Sergeant Kulick, then you do it!” I walked out of Kulick’s office and paid no more attention to this issue.
I was rapidly gaining all power over MS Kulick. I figured since I had a basically well-oiled machine in my local prisoner escort program, I decided to make my position as Assistant Regional Director of Prisoner Security my secondary duty. I was applying to be the new Secretary to the Commanding General of Kaneohe Bay. For an enlisted man, this was an extremely prestigious position. I had shocked everyone when the General selected me to his staff of aides. I, in essence, thumbed my nose up at Master Sergeant Kulick and the prisoner escort program.
While being a Commanding General's aide required a lot of hours from me, MS Kulick saw a definite opening to begin inserting his influence into my prisoner escort program. Again, at this point I really didn't care too much.
Things were finally going good in my life. Besides the escort program going well, and too, besides now being the top NCO (non-commissioned officer) on the base, I had recently met a good woman. After several months we were married. And soon after, she was pregnant with what would be my biological child. Although I had an overwhelming plate of responsibilities and issues to face everyday, I knew where my priorities were.
Maybe, just maybe, the Marine authorities, especially MS Kulick and Colonel Swaggert, the General's Chief of Staff did not appreciate me putting my wife and home life first. Because, a short time later, everything quickly began to unravel, and all the blame was pointed in my direction.
So, there was a ton of work to be done in preparation for President Ronald Reagan's visit to our base by his Secretary of Defense. And at this same time, my wife was getting ready at any time to give birth. And then, of all possibilities, Lance Corporal Charles Chat Ng arrived on the scene. I couldn't believe the message I was reading sent to the Commanding General by the Provost Marshal's Office. It read:
"At approximately 0345 this date, Lance Corporal Charles Chitat Ng, of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station masterminded a break-in of their unit armory. With the assistance of the armed guard on duty, and two other unit Marines, a host of weapons, such as, M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, machine-guns, starlight scopes and pistols were stolen. Lance Corporal Ng has been arrested and is being detained. For legal processes, Ng will require an armed certified chaser to escort him to and from legal proceedings.
Colonel Swaggert blew a gasket. He said, "No, no fucking way, Chapline. You assign one, two, however many you need from your chaser team to guard Ng. You are needed here in the General's Office to prepare for the visit from the Secretary of Defense."
I argued the Colonel's decision on the basis that none of my chasers were certified to handle these responsibilities, much less carry a firearm. But, the Colonel replied, "You got your orders, Sergeant! Follow them or suffer the consequences."
The next two days came and went. My wife had given birth to my son. The Secretary of Defense visiting the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station definitely had its flaws. For instance, after dropping off the Secretary of Defense at Pearl Harbor for a top level brass summit, I parked his staff car under a huge oak tree and fell asleep. When the Secretary finished up with his staff meeting, he noticed his staff car was littered with bird shit. To make matters worse when arriving back at Kaneohe Bay, the Secretary of Defense's flag at the top of the General's building had been hung upside down by none other, than me. I knew I was in deep trouble with the both the Chief of Staff and the Commanding General. But, there was still a lot more drama going on.
As soon as I walked in the General's building, the word was everywhere. Lance Corporal Ng had utilized his martial arts expertise and escaped from two of my chasers. Screaming at the top of his lungs, Colonel Swaggert said, "Chapline, you are going to fucking pay for this dearly, you fucking incompetent bastard!" I didn't reply back to him.
Within a week I was reassigned from the General's Office and relieved of my secondary position as the Assistant Regional Director of Prisoner Security for the Far East. Now, I was assigned to a logistics division and was reduced to typing operation orders. But, the Chief of Staff and the Commanding General had acted too quickly.
For, several months later Lance Corporal Ng was apprehended by the FBI back on the mainland United States. He was delivered back to Kaneohe Bay by the U.S. Marshal's Office. The U.S. Marshal's Office demanded that the Marine Corps assign a certified chaser to guard, transfer and transport Lance Corporal Ng. Still, I was the only Marine on the island who was a certified cross-country chaser. Marine authorities on the base were forced to ask me to come back.
I was angry at this development. I didn't want to come back, but I had no choice.
Ng had a quick trial. It was a general court-martial. I was shocked to learn that base authorities had come to a plea bargain with Ng. In return for Ng revealing the location of all the stolen weapons from the armory, Ng's incarceration at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas would only be for a period of four years. I was outraged.
So, upon taking custody of Lance Corporal Ng, I outright told him that he would never make it to Ft. Leavenworth alive. That, I would personally see to it.
Before I knew it, Ng had requested mast to see the Commanding General of Kaneohe Bay. Ng voiced his fear that in transport, I would murder him, and therefore, was requesting that I be relieved of duty. His request was denied.
Several days later, while under the supervision of Navy guards at the Pearl Harbor brig, Lance Corporal Ng purposely stuck his right leg into an industrial device. Ng's leg was severly mangled, and required immediate surgery. He was taken to the Tripler Army Medical Center located just several miles from Pearl Harbor.
The Commanding General's Chief of Staff, Colonel Swaggert ordered me to organize a guard team of two chasers on duty at a time, 12 hours on and 12 hours off, seven days a week.
I was back in my office at the General's building. Then, I was notified of more bad news from medical staff at the Army hospital. The two Marines on the graveyard shift, who were my chasers, were leaving their posts while on duty and having sex with on duty nurses. Further, there were confirmed reports that acts of torture by these guards were being perpetrated against prisoner Charles Ng.
With Colonel Swaggert and the Commanding General all over my case in this breaking scandal, I decided to assign myself as one of the guards on the graveyard shift down at the Army Medical Center. I figured this was my perfect opportunity to investigate Ng's past.
The reports of torture on Ng were accurate. Apparently, on duty guards were sticking syringes in Ng's feet. I saw for myself, all the track marks. At the next shift change, I made it clear to all my assigned guards that any further incidents of misconduct would result in me both "kicking their fucking asses" and filing formal charges against them. This truly resulted in a hostile work environment between me and the other guards.
After assuring Ng that he would no longer be tortured, my guards then saw me as a traitor and began secretly reporting my perceived friendliness with Ng to Colonel Swaggert. I still confided in no one that I was investigating Ng's past.
I had discovered a great deal about Ng. First, that he was a Hong Kong native. Ng was not only in the United States illegally, but was with the knowledge and help of his Marine Corps recruiter, illegally enlisted in the Marine Corps. Ng was a college dropout, vowed to be an infamous killer, and was a well-trained survivalist who had an obsession for weaponry and martial arts.
When the Commanding General's Chief of Staff threatened me with formal charges, based on the untruths my fellow guards had provided him with, I revealed my findings to Colonel Swaggert. I could see a shocked look come over his face. There would be no doubt, that now, his beloved Corps would suffer a serious public relations "black-eye".
A week later, under the direct supervision of Master Sergeant Kulick, and my entire chaser team, I delivered, on crutches, Charles Chat Ng to Leavenworth with a small group of other convicted Marines who would be doing time in Leavenworth.
Almost immediately, when I returned back to Hawaii, Colonel Swaggert was waiting on my arrival at Kaneohe. He watched as I received from my Company Commander a phony Meritorious Mast for delivering Charles Chat Ng to Ft. Leavenworth.
Immediately after this public ceremony, where the local media was present, I was privately escorted up to the General's building where a Board of Inquiry was waiting on me. Colonel Swaggert informed the board that although I had successfully delivered Ng to Leavenworth, it was under the supervision of a Master Sergeant who was not certified in transporting prisoners. Further, Colonel Swaggert explained from a large pile of documents how I had disgraced myself in allowing prisoner Charles Ng to compromise my authority as a Military Marshal.
I was supposed to have my turn to speak and defend myself. However, Colonel Swaggert cut that off very short. Colonel Swaggert informed the board I had absolutely no documentation to defend against the allegations that were made against me. It was then that Colonel Swaggert recommended that I be honorably discharged at the end of my present enlistment contract, but not recommended for reenlistment. I was asked by Colonel Swaggert, and then the board members to leave the Marine Corps quietly. In a very smug fashion, with no witnesses out front of the General's building, Colonel Swaggert said, "You know Chapline, if its not documented, it never happened. Those are the words from Master Sergeant Kulick."
So, once break time was over, and my hearing reconvened, I agreed to take the deal offered to leave the Marine Corps quietly. Anyway, I was absolutely fed up with the politics in the Marine Corps. However, I did tell both Colonel Swaggert and the Board of Inquiry that it would be essential to deport Ng immediately back to Hong Kong upon his release from Leavenworth. I said that Ng is a very dangerous man. Colonel Swaggert then once again, cut me off.
I wasn't worried about leaving the Marine Corps after so many years and supporting my wife and newborn baby. I knew I could easily make a lateral transfer from being a Military Marshal to a Federal U.S. Marshal.
I moved my wife and child to where we would be close to my wife's mother. She lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. Soon, after being discharged from the Marines, I went to the Federal Building in downtown Las Vegas. I was truly ready to become a U.S. Marshal.
But, when I walked in and presented myself, it only took moments for me to realize that Colonel Swaggert had struck again. A middle-aged lady in charge of Personnel came out to talk to me. She stated, "Mr. Chapline, your authority as a Military Marshal was officially revoked. Secondly, you were misinformed about a lateral transfer from the military to the U.S Marshal's Office. There is no such thing. The badge that you have in your possession is meaningless. Plus, Mr. Chapline, this badge is not even inscripted with a number that identifies you as an officer. Is there anything else we can do for you?
I didn't say anything. I dropped the badge in the waste basket on the way out of their office. I was both humiliated and scared. I had no idea what I was going to do.
Charles Chat Ng went on to become an infamous mass-killer as I said he would. Many years later I was forced to testify against Ng at the penalty phase of his trial in California. This was the most expensive trial in California history. Ng received the death penalty for the mass-murders of many innocent women and children.
But, in essence, I had received a different kind of death penalty. The best that I could provide for my family was spending the next twenty plus years in the Nevada system as a prison guard. The drama just never seemed to stop until the year 2008, when, I finally retired from all forms of public service. Thank God!
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With Some Names Changed, "The Unnumbered Badge" Is A True Story