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Hashing & the Military

This is an editorial I wrote for Asia-Pacific Harrier Magazine back in February 2004. Bimbo, the publisher, asked me to write about the situation in Okinawa, Japan, where U.S. military commanders have clamped down on hashing and hashers. Since then U.S. military commanders in Korea have joined the witch hunt, and I’m concerned their fear of hashing will spread throughout the U.S. military command structure.

For over 60 years, hashing and the military have had a good relationship. Military men and women of many nations hash, and certainly the hash would not have spread around the world without the good efforts of military hashers, founding new kennels in new postings. It’s been a good marriage, and it’s heartbreaking to see hashing and the military on the outs, slamming doors, calling lawyers, telling each other they never were any good in bed.

What follows are the words I wrote for Asia-Pacific Harrier, my small attempt to get the couple to agree to counseling:

Hashing and the Military

Hash historians get upset when people persist in spreading the mistaken notion that British military officers started the first hash in Kuala Lumpur in 1938. Gispert and the other founders were civilians, although, thanks to World War II, it wasn’t long before most of them were wearing uniforms.

In spite of hashing’s civilian origins, the Johnny Appleseeds who spread hashing around the world were British, Australian, and American military personnel. And today, soldiers, sailors, and airmen of all ranks dominate the membership lists of hash kennels located near military installations, especially overseas military installations. Many of us were first introduced to hashing while in the military and stationed overseas. Our hashing experiences are intertwined with our military experiences (I’m no exception – I joined the Okinawa HHH while posted to a U.S. Air Force base in Japan).

This is why, for so many hashers, it’s depressing to hear news of military members getting themselves in trouble and dragging the hash into the fray. Within the past month I’ve heard of two such incidents at overseas U.S. military bases (if it seems I’m singling out U.S. military hashers, that’s only because both of these stories involve American service members – I’m certain similar things happen elsewhere).

The first report came from Incirlik, Turkey, where two U.S. Air Force members had an affair. The man was an officer and the woman was enlisted. Both were members of the local Hash House Harriers group, where they apparently met. In today’s military, sexual fraternization is a Be No (as in “there will be no . . .”). Alas, punishment did not stop with the errant couple – military personnel stationed at Incirlik Air Base are no longer allowed to hash.

The second incident occurred on my old stomping grounds, Okinawa, this time involving members of the U.S. Marine Corps. You guessed it – another cross-ranks affair. Both were members of the Okinawa HHH, which was mentioned repeatedly during the officer’s court-martial. Unfortunately, some of the lieutenant’s dirty laundry was the Okinawa HHH’s dirty laundry: simulated sex acts in the circle, excessive drinking, midnight nude runs, and of course (when will we ever learn?) the perennial “Drinking Club with a Running Problem” header on the Okinawa HHH web site.

As far as I know U.S. military authorities on Okinawa haven’t banned hashing – so far. This is an ongoing story and no one yet knows how it will evolve. The frightening thing, however, is that the USMC lieutenant’s court-martial, complete with damning testimony of hash misbehavior, was reported in the Pacific Stars & Stripes, a quasi-independent newspaper read by U.S. military personnel stationed throughout Asia. If military commanders on Okinawa are worried about the Hash House Harriers, so now are military commanders in the rest of Japan, South Korea, Guam, and elsewhere. We are on the radar scope, as they say.

Those of us who hash with military-dominated kennels, or who are military hashers ourselves, know that hashing is not the culprit. If anything, we see hashing as a positive, happy activity. We know that hashing is good off-duty recreation and a genuine morale-builder, especially for lonely troops posted far from home. It’s a great way to get to know the local people, customs, and geography. The long tradition of military involvement in the hash has been a good thing for hashers and hashing. I think we could argue that hashing has been good for the military as well – it’s definitely a more wholesome off-duty activity than others I could name.

If we were talking about a shooting incident, I’d be tempted to say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Our amorous couples in Turkey and Japan could just as easily have met and fallen in lust at the base exchange, or for that matter the base chapel. Are military commanders over-reacting? Of course they are. But if we’re honest, we must admit that hashers themselves threw gasoline on the flames.

When I hashed on Okinawa, there were more than a hundred young enlisted soldiers and marines in our group. But the membership of the hash also included officers and senior non-commissioned officers, up to and including a USMC brigadier general and two or three top gunnery sergeants. Lack of discipline and inappropriate fraternization was never a problem. We let our hair down and had a good time, but we never forgot our roles as military personnel and unofficial ambassadors of the United States. Just try simulating a sexual act in the circle or running trail in the nude with a top gunny looking on. Go on, I dare you!

I’ll even go so far as to say that excessive drinking – the kind of drinking that leads to drunk driving and other forms of profoundly stupid behavior – is less of a problem at military-dominated hashes than it is at all-civilian hashes.

We don’t know much about the incident in Turkey, but if the commander there felt it necessary to put the hash off-limits, it’s probably safe to assume there was at least some degree of questionable behavior at the hash, as there almost certainly was on Okinawa. So how did discipline get lax at the two military-dominated hashes in question? My first guess is excessive drinking. My second guess is lack of leadership.

Drinking. Every hasher, civilian or military, understands the risks of excessive drinking, and most of us have the sense to stay within our limits. There will always be a few who won’t, or can’t, exercise self-discipline, but we look out for our brothers and sisters. We understand that hash stupidity can bleed over into real life, hurting careers, friendships, and marriages, and we try to prevent our fellow hashers from harming themselves. That’s been my experience in fifteen years of hashing, and I hope yours as well. But no hasher can deny that alcohol is present at hashing events, and alcohol poses a particular danger when leadership is absent.

Leadership. Most hashes have it. A few don’t. Some hashes cycle between periods where leadership is present and periods where it is not. I think we lose our way when we don’t have, or refuse to exercise, leadership. Why? Because in the absence of leadership, there’s no one to put the brakes on excessive drinking. And when people drink excessively, they lose their judgment and do stupid, self-destructive things.

Military commanders don’t read this magazine, so I won’t waste my time pointing out that hashing isn’t going to go away, or recommending that rather than declaring hashing off-limits military leaders get involved in hashing instead. But a few hashers read this magazine, and some are military, and to them I’ll recommend exercising leadership at the hash. I know you love the hash, and I hope you’ll do what you can to help protect it. And I don’t think you have to be an officer or senior NCO to be a leader. If you’re a respected member of the hash, regardless of your rank or social position, you can step into that leadership role.

It’s easy to stand by while things get out of hand. It’s hard to step in and try to keep an enthusiastic, young crowd under control. But we always managed to do it before, and I have to wonder why we’re not doing such a good job of it now. It’s high time we hashers did a better job of policing ourselves. If you’ve stayed with me this far, I know you care enough about hashers and hashing to help provide the leadership we need, and I thank you. The hash will thank you too.

- Flying Booger

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