I am a bit of a rush to get this out, so please do not expect any Shakespearean eloquence (or grammar) in my writing. I am also going to try and limit my posts to a couple of thousand words at a time, so this will be a multiple post story.
There has recently been an upbeat in the amount of press the Private Danny Chen suicide ordeal is receiving due to the fact the first Soldier, Sgt. Adam Holcomb, is heading to trial this week in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
As I have covered extensively throughout the Danny Chen ordeal, I have yet to see even one media outlet bother to do any sort of proper research into the events surrounding Danny Chen’s suicide in Afghanistan at “The Palace.” So I have taken it upon myself over the last few months to employ my writing and journalism skills to finding the facts of the case instead of being spoon-fed skewed information by those with a racial agenda. While I’m not going to say the information was easy to come by, anyone with a reasonable aptitude in journalism could have found what I did to learn the other side of the story. Due to privacy concerns I am going to invoke my rights as a journalist not to reveal the sources of information.
First, for those who do not know, I served as an infantryman in the Minnesota Army National Guard. It was in Western Baghdad serving as an infantryman where I almost died from a roadside bomb on December 19, 2006. The infantry is an MOS like none other, where its members pride themselves on being the physically and mentally strong, cohesive fighting force necessary to face the type of adversity that others can only imagine or experience through poorly enacted Hollywood movies. War is not a video game, nor is it for the faint of heart. If you do not have the correct mindset, or “warrior ethos” as is commonly (sometimes exhaustively) said in the military, then you do not belong there.
As I have said previously, the strength of a fighting unit is only as strong as the weakest link, or in the case of the military, the weakest individual. The goal is always to strengthen the weakest link, not destroy it. Having served as a team leader in the infantry, I know all too well that worrisome feeling that perhaps your Soldiers will not be ready, that they will not be capable of facing the bombs and bullets in a combat zone, that they will be unable to not only save their own ass, but to watch your six as well. The strength of a fighting force is built on unit cohesion and discipline, discipline that comes through training, leadership, and Soldiers of the correct caliber and mentality. No unit serving in the hostile conditions of a combat zone in Afghanistan is going to willingly allow or support the maltreatment of one of their own. I mean, think about it. Are you really going to go out of your way to harm someone if 5 minutes from now they could be tasked with trying to save your life?
While the outside perspective of the civilian world on the type of punishments and corrective training used by the military, especially the infantry, might seem harsh, it is nothing compared to the repercussions of an ineffective fighting force facing a hostile enemy. I would much rather low crawl a kilometer than ever take a 7.62 round to the body armor. I would rather do 1000 push-ups than ever have to carry one of my Soldiers in a flag draped coffin into the back of a C-130. I would rather do flutter kicks until I rip another abdomen hernia than ever have one my Soldiers experience what I did and have a limb ripped from their body by an IED. I would rather have a mother curse me for what she thinks is cruel punishment to her son, than ever have to apologize for not bringing him home alive.
War is not a game. It is a matter of life and death. The repercussions are eternal.
First let me state an obvious but incredibly important detail. Private Danny Chen was not killed at the hands of the enemy. He was not killed by a roadside bomb. He was not killed by bullets from an AK-47. He was not killed by an RPG. He chose to take his own life. He made that choice and followed through with it. He was not forced. His life was taken by his own hands in a guard tower.
The narrative apparent in the media seems to have been mostly established by the Organization for Chinese Americans – New York Chapter, in conjunction with local politicians like U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, (D-N.Y.). They have been the heavy leaners on the story, guiding and steering the media narrative and pointing to race as the cause of any and all ills Private Chen might have faced. They generated a sob story of a poor young Chinese-American whose dreams of joining the military were shattered by the racial hatred that they say consumes the United States military. Chen’s Chinese immigrant parents are painted as supportive parents who gave their son nothing but love and support in his quest.
As I uncovered more and more evidence to the contrary, I kept coming back to the same question I now ask of all those painting this picture: have you no shame in your dishonesty?
So please, allow me to punch a giant hole in the well established narrative.
Chen’s parents were not the loving supportive parents that have been painted in the media. They were not at all supportive of Private Danny Chen’s decision to join the United States military. In fact, the more information I uncovered about his poor family situation, the angrier I became that they could ever portray that they did. Danny Chen confided in other soldiers the whole reason his parents came to the United States was to keep him from being drafted into the Chinese military. So when Danny Chen decided to join the Army, his parents were furious (he signed up in secret). Although they showed up to his basic training graduation at Fort Benning, his father insisted he quit.
I can only imagine what this must have done mentally and emotionally to Private Danny Chen. Infantry Basic Training is a long 14 week ordeal that takes place on Sand Hill at Fort Benning, Georgia. I went through the training back in 2004 and can honestly say of all the experiences I had in the military, it is the only one I would not like to repeat (and I say that as the honor graduate of my company). The feeling of accomplishment and relief after graduating was overwhelming. I can only imagine the emotional punch in the gut Private Danny Chen must have felt when his parents showed up and were not only disappointed in him for achieving such a feat, but demanded that he quit the military entirely.
Basic training was not an easy accomplishment for Private Danny Chen. Due to his name and Chinese accent, he received unwanted attention, the kind that comes naturally in basic training to every Soldier (myself included). As I covered previously:
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. 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.
To paint basic training as an out-of-control environment where racism and anti-Asian sentiment runs rampant is utterly incomprehensible to anyone who has ever experienced the ordeal. Basic training is designed toughen you up mentally and physically for the rigors of life or death situations in combat. It is not Boy Scout Camp.
One thing that jumped out at me in a previous article regarding Chen’s experiences in basic training was a letter home where he characterized himself as “the weakest one left.” As I would later uncover in my investigation surrounding the suicide of Pvt. Chen, despite the fact he made it through basic training he was not at all physically strong. In fact, some Soldiers would speculate that he never actually passed his PT test in basic training, that he was just “pencil passed” under the commonly held belief that he would be squared away and strengthened downrange at his unit and become their problem. (More will be said on this later in regards to the “smokings” Chen received in Afghanistan.)
After graduating from basic training Chen was assigned to a unit in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Further investigation into his relationship with his parents showed that it only worsened. During his time there he attempted to make contact with his parents on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, his parents either refused to talk to him at all or told him how disappointed they were that he was serving in the military. It was a burden that clearly weighed heavily upon Private Chen, to the point he eventually missed a morning formation shortly before deploying to Afghanistan. Other soldiers in his unit, concerned for his well-being, searched and finally found him curled up in a ball in his barracks room. Private Chen was distraught. He told his leadership and friends that if he deployed, his parents would disown him.
Chen would eventually deploy, at the expense of the already frayed relationship with his parents.
This is the first of a multi-segment series on the suicide of Private Danny Chen in Afghanistan. Subsequent stories will be following shortly.