Apparently the racism narrative on the suicide of Private Danny Chen isn’t going away. From the Washington Post:
NEW YORK — The harassment of Danny Chen, 19, started in basic training — teasing about his name, repeated questions of whether he was from China, even though he was a born-and-raised New Yorker. He wrote in his journal that he was running out of jokes to respond with.
It got worse in Afghanistan, military investigators told his family. They said the other men in his unit showered Chen, the only Chinese American in his unit, with racial slurs and physical abuse in the weeks leading up to his suicide in early October. Eight soldiers have been charged in connection with his death.
Bullying or a test of mettle?
For some Asian Americans who have served in the military, the racial-prejudice aspect of Chen’s purported mistreatment comes with little surprise, based on what they’ve seen or experienced. But others say that the military is a place where everyone’s limits are tested, and that the failure in Chen’s case was one of leadership on the Army’s part.
It’s unclear how often service members experience racial bullying. Despite repeated requests, the Army did not provide any data. The Defense Department said it had no information because each branch of the military is responsible for its own recordkeeping. The Army did say that it has regulations against hazing and bullying.
(I have already addressed the comments that were made to him in basic training at Fort Benning in a previous post.) AP paints this dire picture of a military gone racist, attacking their own. Not once in the article do they mention Chen’s inability to function as an Infantry Soldier. As one commenter points out:
MizAmerica 2/25/2012 11:24 AM CST
I am wondering how much boo hooing would be going on if it came out that Pvt, Chen, who slept on Guard Duty allowed the COP to be overrun and several soldiers were killed???He arrived at the COP unprepared with a boat load of issues!!! He could NOT adjust to the rigors of COP life physically or mentally!! So in everyone’s opinion, the other 20 guys should have had to be at his mercy? They were trying to make a vialble soldier!!! They NEEDED him!!! They had started out with 42 Soldiers and by the time Pvt. Chen arrived they were down to 20!!!! What do you think happened to the others??? IED’S!!!Why don’t you all try reading other sources besides this copy and paste one!!! Would you all like to hear what the OCA-NY is considering racism??????? Calling him by his LAST NAME!!!!!What was the “hazing’? Push-ups, sit-ups and sprinting carrying a 20 lb. sand bag!!! Why would they need to do that? Because since they American’s arrived at the COP in June they had been attacked by Taliban OVER 100 times!!! they had several WIA’s while patrolling……..A soldier HAD to be able to sprint under fire carrying a battle buddy!!! Had he trained with them from the beginning……he would have had to do the sprints carrying another person…..seems to me the sandbag would be easier!!!! The horrible Rock Incident? The Wall Street Journal was honest enough to explain that!!! Chen did not deploy with these soldiers, he was a replacement inserted at the height of fighting season!!! He was being taught to Low Crawl, a standard infantry exercise and the rocks were thrown NEAR him to simulate getting shot at which was a daily occurrance outside of the wire!!!!He left a computer and a journal that will tell the TRUE story!
First, I have yet to find any evidence that points to Chen being picked on solely because he was Asian. Everything points to his inability to perform as a competent Soldier. The harsh reality that neither the media nor civilians realize or are willing to admit, is that being able to properly do ones job in the military is a matter of life and death not just for an individual Soldier, but for everyone around them.
Furthermore, the ability of the military to operate as a whole is based on trust between Soldiers. Trust that the Soldier on tower duty is going to stay awake. Trust that the Soldier to your left is scanning their sector and isn’t going to allow the enemy to creep through. Trust that the Soldier is competent enough to do their job and will not endanger the mission or well being of the whole unit.
Unfortunately, the media has been quick to gloss over Private Chen’s inability to perform even the most simple tasks required of a Soldier. But once in a while they let the facts slip through the racism narrative. From the New Yorker:
The eight men later charged in connection with his death are all white and range in age from 24 to 35; they include one lieutenant, two staff sergeants, three sergeants, and two specialists. Members of this group allegedly harassed and humiliated Chen from almost the day he arrived at The Palace. They belittled him with racial slurs. They forced him to do push-ups with a mouthful of water, refusing to let him swallow or spit any out. And, on September 27, a sergeant allegedly yanked him out of bed and dragged him across about 50 yards of gravel toward a shower trailer as punishment for supposedly breaking the hot-water pump. He endured bruises and cuts on his back. Army officials told Chen’s family that although the leader of his platoon found out about this incident, he never reported it as he was required to.
One week later, on the morning of October 3, Chen was scheduled to report for guard duty at 7:30 a.m. But when he got to the guard tower, he realized he’d forgotten his helmet and didn’t have enough water. A superior sent him back to the trailer to get what he needed, then allegedly forced him to crawl, with all his equipment, across some 100 meters of gravel in order to return to the tower so he could start his shift. While he was on the ground, two other superiors pelted him with rocks. And once he reached the tower, a superior grabbed him by his body armor and dragged him up the steps.
First, not only did he not have enough water, but he didn’t have enough water a mere week after being punished for the very same infraction. The. Very. First. Thing. They. Teach. You. In the Army: Drink water. Its drilled into you in boot, in your unit, during training, Army schools, road marches and every aspect of the military life. Its the answer for everything in the military. Have a headache? Drink water. Hungry? Drink water. Tired? Drink water. Twisted ankle? Drink water. Arm blown off by an IED? Drink water. There is a reason Soldiers carry Camelbaks everywhere they go. Every year Soldiers needlessly die of dehydration, or put others lives at risk when they compromise missions. The fact that he had to be told multiple times tells me it either wasn’t sinking in with him, or he was abdicating his responsibilities on purpose.
And forgetting his Kevlar? As a person who is a combat Veteran of Iraq and has spent his share of time in a guard tower, let me help the civilians out in understanding this level of incompetence. Imagine you roll out of bed, get ready for work, and head off to your job. Upon arriving at the office, your boss reprimands you because you forgot to put pants on over your underwear. That is the equivelant of forgetting your Kevlar or body armor in the military. And it would be one thing if he forgot it during training, but in a combat zone in Afghanistan? It makes his performance as a Soldier look that much worse.
As for the tactics the military uses, I apparently need to explain this to the civilians who are eagerly looking for someone to blame for his death. If being forced to low crawl across a gravel parking lot, or do flutter kicks, push-ups, sprinting with a sand bag, or any other form of physical corrective training is hazing, then the Army had better close basic training, air assault school, Ranger school, jump school, sniper school, and every other training environment because every one of them do it. I have fond memories of my entire platoon low crawling over 100 m across a gravel parking lot at Fort Benning, the very same place Private Chen went to boot. I also have fond memories of having my face in the dirt as I low crawled through muddy obstacles at air assault school while the air assault instructors screamed at me. If sprinting with a sandbag is torture, then I should have been thrown in jail for making my Soldiers wear their body armor during 3 mile runs in Kuwait’s 110° heat, prior to flying into Iraq. The fact of the matter is, I have yet to really see anything he was made to do that was outside the normal requirements of an infantryman. The infantry is supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be physically demanding. It’s war, not Boy Scout camp. Turn on any “making the cut” show on the military, and you’ll see that. As for the rocks that were supposedly thrown at him, I need to remind you he was wearing body armor. When you throw a rock at someone wearing body armor, it makes a “thwack” sound. Considering the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) is designed to stop bullets and shrapnel (as I found out the hard way), a rock thrown does nothing other than get the Soldiers attention, a handy tool for a Soldier who has a history of lackadaisical performance.
Of all the jobs required of infantry Soldiers, tower guard is by far the easiest, and the most boring. You show up with your body armor, weapon, and water, and climb up in the tower. During your shift you sit there and scan your sector. Periodically you radio back to let the TOC know your status, or if there are any potential threats. Occasionally there is a threat that needs to be dealt with, but for the most part that is all you do. 99% of the time you’re bored out of your mind. Yet as boring as it is, the lives of the other Soldiers on the base are dependant upon you doing your job, including showing up to work prepared for your shift. The fact that he couldn’t even get that right is a testament to his lack of discipline as a Soldier. But this isnt the first time we’ve heard of this.
Private Chen’s parents, Su Zhen Chen and Yan Tao Chen, Chinese immigrants who live in the East Village, said they did not know if their son had done anything else that the other soldiers might have taken as a provocation. But in October, military officials gave the Chens a photocopy of a page from Private Chen’s personal journal that included a list, apparently in his handwriting, describing procedural failures: “Didn’t clear weapon,” “Didn’t hydrate,” and “No attention to detail (little things).”
As I mentioned in a previous post on the matter:
The “procedural failure” that immediately jumped out at me was “didn’t clear weapon.” In military speak that means Chen forgot to unload his weapon before entering a base and/or building. That means he was not only a danger to himself, but the other Soldiers around him. Not only that, but he failed to do one of the first and most basic things they teach you in Boot at Ft. Benning: drink water. Every year Soldiers needlessly die from both dehydration and negligent discharges (NDs) from weapons that were not cleared. These are basic tasks required of every Soldier regardless of MOS. But for an Infantry Soldier the inability to do these most simple tasks is especially bad. “Attention to detail” can mean any number of things in the Army from not cleaning ones weapon properly to forgetting a radio battery on a mission to forgetting to turn off the water heater.
Based on all this information it would appear that they were justified in leaving him behind on missions. Does that mean they were justified in throwing rocks at him and using racial slurs during his punishment? Absolutely not. Was Private Danny Chen unfairly targeted simply because he was Chinese? It does not appear so. Was the treatment of him by the other Soldiers simply for racial reasons? Again, not likely. It would appear as though he received unwanted attention due to his inability to perform basic tasks required of any Soldier, but especially an Infantry Soldier. He simply wasn’t cut out for the military.
There is that simple task again: drink water. I am here to tell you from experience, you sweat like a pig when you are wearing body armor. Every year soldiers die of dehydration because they did not consume enough water. Apparently the inability to perform even the most simple tasks was the norm for this young Soldier. And lets not forget the most severe of them all, forgetting to clear his weapon. While I was in Iraq there were numerous incidents of Soldiers being wounded or even killed by other Soldiers who forgot to clear (unload) their weapon. As was stated previously, the whole reason Private Chen was left behind in the first place is because they did not feel comfortable taking him on missions. They deemed him to be more of a liability than an asset. And it was this issue which led to him being left behind on patrols, and him accidentally using up all the fuel for hot water on the base. It was this incident that led to him being dragged from his bed when they returned from patrol. Take a second, and put yourself in the boots of the Soldiers around him. Here they are in a base in Afghanistan, undermanned, stretched to their limits, watching their buddies get sent home wounded, and one of the reinforcements sent to them ends up being more of a liability than an asset. They were doing their best to turn him into a competent Soldier, it just wasn’t taking.
Again, the more I read, the more it seems like this kid just wasn’t cut out for the military, or at least the Infantry. Race had nothing to do with it. He made one poor choice after another and it all snowballed. Soon all the other Soldiers were mad at him. Yet nowhere does it appear that they were targeting him simply for being Asian. They were targeting him because he was not competent in a combat MOS and was putting other people’s lives in danger.
As I have said before, any racially charged statements or other racist behavior on the part of the other Soldiers toward Private Chen is inexcusable. The military is a very racially diverse place that welcomes people of all backgrounds and gives all Soldiers equal opportunity to succeed. As I have stated previously, the military is by far the most diverse group of people I ever been a part of. For those of us who served as infantrymen in the Army, the racism narrative doesn’t fit. Without trust between all Soldiers of all races and backgrounds, the military would have fallen apart long ago.
Sadly, Private Danny Chen made the decision to take his own life over the other options available to him. He could have reported his situation to his chain of command. He could have written home. He could have contacted JAG. He could have told the Soldier he replaced in the guard tower what was on his mind. Unfortunately, he chose to end his own life. Again, my heart goes out to the family of Private Danny Chen. No Soldier should ever make the choice that he did.