Soldier Commits Suicide, Family Blames Racism

First, the allegations.

Family and friends of Danny Chen, who apparently shot himself to death in Afghanistan, say racist taunts and bullying led to the tragedy, and they are demanding more action beyond the arrests of eight of his fellow soldiers.

Eight U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan have been charged in connection with the October 3 death of fellow G.I. Danny Chen, who allegedly shot himself to death in a guard tower. But alleged racist taunts and bullying leading up to the tragedy of the Chinese-American’s apparent suicide, at 19, have left Chen’s family and friends outraged.

Although the exact circumstances of his death are unclear, advocates speaking for his family said Wednesday that regardless of who fired the bullet that killed Chen, the soldiers who allegedly mistreated him are responsible.

“Whether suicide or not, the actions of these people led to his death, and they must be prosecuted for killing him,” said Liz Ou­Yang, a Chinese American activist who pushed for an investigation of Chen’s death.

“There can be no plea-bargaining — they must be tried in the death of Danny Chen.”

First let me say that I feel for this young Soldier and his family.  I really do.  No Soldier should ever think that what he did is a proper solution to any problem. The way he chose to leave this world is terrible. Whatever problems he was facing were nothing compared to what he did. If he was being bullied and if it was based on race, why didn’t he ask for help?  Why not report it?

So according to the aforementioned article, they don’t know what happened, but they’re probably all guilty, and since he was of Chinese descent it must be racism.  Gee, no bias there.  And now that the media is weighing in with their typical slant, the truth will never get out (or if it does it will not be believed or portrayed correctly).

First of all, racism in boot? At Ft. Benning? In 2004 I went through the same Sand Hill at Ft. Benning Chen did. If you have a different accent, a funny name, or any other distinguishing feature you’re going to stand out. I could climb the ropes faster than the other Soldiers so one of my Drill Sergeants (who was from Ghana) called me Spiderman, and continued until we graduated. The smallest member of the platoon was called Mighty Mouse. Everyone had a nickname, and everyone was made fun of.  If your name was too hard to say you were Private Alphabet. Chen? That’s a no-brainer for Jackie Chan. Its not personal, its to break everyone down before they build you back up as a Soldier.  Show me a kid whining in his diary about getting picked on in boot and I’ll show you a whole company doing the same thing in their letters and phone calls home. Its basic training in the military, its not supposed to be easy.  If it were that easy to be in the Infantry everyone would be doing it.  On top that, Ft. Benning is Infantry Training which means men only. You don’t have 9 weeks of hell followed by a gentleman’s course in your respective MOS. You have OSUT, One Station Unit Training, otherwise known as 14-15 weeks of hell.   We lost almost 20% of the Soldiers in our platoon alone before graduation.  As for the racism allegations, boot at Ft. Benning was one of the most diverse places I have ever been in the military. You have every shade of human there. Only half of the Drill Sergeants were white in my company, A Co 2-58 INF.  My experience holds pretty close to the representation of the Army which is 38% minorities.

I went through the names and ranks of the accused. The Platoon LT, and a couple Squad Leaders and/or Platoon SGT will get the standard dereliction of duty charge and maybe a lying under oath charge. The rest of it breaks down as fire team leaders (SGTs) and junior enlisted (SPC) members of the fire teams. Some were charged with “cruelty and maltreatment.” Its a blanket term like disorderly conduct and isn’t the first time we’ve seen this charge in regards to a Soldier suicide.

As far as the accusations break down, without context its hard to understand or point fingers.

“We were told that he was dragged from his bed across the floor, and other soldiers threw rocks at his back,” Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, tells The Daily Beast. And, OuYang says, while forced to do chin-ups with liquid in his mouth, “Danny couldn’t cough up the liquid.”

Dragged from his bed could mean any number of things. Soldiers could have been horsing around. Infantry Soldiers love to practice GFT, or Army Combatives when they get bored.    Or perhaps Chen did not want to get out of bed to do his guard shift or go on patrol. I saw this happen on a few occasions in Iraq. If you dont do your job people will be on you for it.  Everyone gets extremely tired after days of no rest. But you suck it up and do your job. Maybe he had a beef with a battle buddy who had it in for him.  Who knows.

Threw rocks at his back? Again, context needed. Was he wearing body armor? Were they on patrol? Standing in line at the DFAC? We used to throw water balloons and rocks at the guard towers. Partly to break the boredom of 12 guys living in the desert by ourselves, and partly to make sure the guards were staying awake.  A rock to the back of your body armor makes a loud “thwack” sound. You don’t feel a thing through the ceramic plate, but it gets your attention.  Without context allegations of wrong doing are mere speculation.

Look, everyone has a breaking point. When you’re in those kind of conditions for an extended period of time with the same people things wear on you. Soldiers reach that point and break down mentally. We saw it with the young privates, like Chen, in Iraq. Some reached a point and said “No, I’m not doing this anymore.” Nothing we were doing was that hard, but the monotony and threat of what might happen was just draining. Last Sunday during my Alive Day celebration, I got a text message from one of the younger Privates – who broke down – that I served with in Iraq over 5 years ago. He essentially said “sorry I acted like such a shit head in Iraq.”

Remember, the military plays by different rules than civilian courts. When someone dies there is an extensive investigation, especially when its caused by a non-hostile act like this. We lost a guy due to a vehicle accident. One vehicle was towing another and hit a sandy patch of road. They lost control and rolled and one gunner died instantly. The investigation lasted months. The CET (Convoy Escort Team) leader was told there was a possibility he would go to jail for the death simply because he was in charge. After months of sweating it out the investigation concluded that he was innocent. If there was clear and obvious wrong doing in this situation they probably would have been charged immediately, not two months later.

If the Soldiers are guilty of bullying the Private then they should be punished accordingly, especially if it was due to racism.  Racism has no place in our nations fighting force and can shred moral and unit cohesion. No Soldier should ever feel that taking your own life is an option.  Look, I feel for this Soldier and his family, I really do.  The loss his family has felt must be indescribable.

I really hope they’re not just looking for justice in the form of trumped up race charges. Unfortunately, based on the stories out in the media its pretty obvious which direction its headed.


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