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Comrades: Soldier who killed himself received 'corrective training'

Posted July 25, 2012
Updated July 26, 2012

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— A soldier who committed suicide in Afghanistan last year received "corrective training" because he often fell asleep on guard duty, several soldiers testified Wednesday.

Military officials say Pvt. Danny Chen shot himself last October in a guardhouse after weeks of hazing by fellow soldiers.

According to court documents, Chen, 19, was kicked, dragged from his tent, forced to crawl on a gravel path and had sandbags tied to his arms. The son of Chinese immigrants, he also was called racial slurs and forced to speak to his fellow soldiers in Chinese.

Sgt. Adam Holcomb of Youngstown, Ohio, is the first of eight soldiers charged in the case to face a court-martial. He has been charged with negligent homicide and other offenses.

Several soldiers testified that they never saw any warning signs that Chen might kill himself, but they did acknowledge that he received particularly harsh corrective training to encourage him to stay awake while on duty.

One soldier testified that Chen had numerous large scratches on his back from where Holcomb had dragged him across gravel.

The witnesses said Chen was singled out more than other low-ranking soldiers for poor performance, and they said Holcomb gave Chen disparaging nicknames related to his Chinese ancestry.

Sketch of Sgt. Adam Holcomb Soldiers say sergeant used disparaging names before comrade's suicide

"It would be like calling a black man the N-word," Pfc. Justin Christiansen said. "It's just not acceptable."

"(Chen) said it made him feel angry sometimes," Pfc. Adrian Douglas said, "but he felt he couldn't do anything about it."

His most common nickname, soldiers testified, was "Dragon Lady."

"He never expressed that he was upset with that name," Pfc. Luico Herrero said. "I never heard him referred to anything other than 'Dragon Lady.'"

Defense attorney Capt. Dennis Hernon suggested in his opening statement Tuesday that Chen committed suicide because his family had disowned him once he joined the Army.

His father disputed that Wednesday, calling his son's military service "a glorious thing."

Yan Tao Chen said through an interpreter that he would have preferred that his son go to college after high school, but he remained "a pearl in my heart."

"He was serving his country and the people in his country," Yan Tao Chen said.

He said he didn’t notice anything wrong when he spoke with his son during the Afghan deployment.

“I asked him how he was doing. He said he was doing fine. Nothing bad was going on,” Yan Tao Chen said. "He was a very happy, open person. He grew up in a large, extended family.”

Chen's mother, Su Zhen Chen, said late Tuesday that she doesn't believe his death was a suicide, and she hopes the Army can help her find the truth.

Yan Tao Chen said he hired a lawyer after his son's death to learn the truth about what happened, not to make money from a lawsuit.

"That has never crossed my mind. To this day, I never thought about it," he testified.

Danny Chen was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, but he was under the command of a Fort Bragg general in Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. James Huggins requested the courts-martial be transferred to Fort Bragg, which military officials said worked out better logistically. Chen's family also lobbied for the trials to be held stateside.

Holcomb's trial is attracting international media attention, and the Chinese-American community is trying to maintain a spotlight on the case to push the Army for reforms.

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  • more cowbell Jul 26, 2012

    The Furry Godmother
    This is not about "allegedly" sleeping on guard duty. This is about army values and moral ethics. Since the dead soldier is unable to present his version of the brutality, the ones that subjected him to the treatment will have less burden to prove otherwise.

    The army has really gone down hill since lil bush declared his private war on the world in general.

    Go back to your Tom Cruise movies and those of us that have actually lived through it will continue to maintain our objectivity from a perspective of reality, not television.

  • GAPeach Jul 26, 2012

    "This all could have been settled without being violent against him. If it was a problem for him to stay awake, during guard duty then maybe (before he went on actual guard duty) they could let him and others rest up so they won't be falling asleep? Common sense. Or if there are a couple of soldiers on duty at the same time, take shifts by using a watch with an alarm. They are all overworked and stressed out over there. They are fighting in the trenches with each other, so why not be able to cover each other and watch each other's back from time to time. I know it's done."

    This was not a movie. Chen was sent there as a replacement soldier. They had started their deployment with 40 and by the time Chen got there they were down to 20. IED's and firefights took out the others. EVERYONE was doing twice their workload. This COP was attacked DAILY!

  • Lightfoot3 Jul 26, 2012

    "It all boils down to this folks, which type of guard would YOU want protecting YOUR loved ones - an awake one or an asleep one???" - The Furry Godmother


    Actually it doesn't. Him falling asleep, IF TRUE, doesn't give them free reign to do whatever they want to him. There are plenty of ways to motivate a problem soldier without resorting to the continuous torment they are alleged to have done. But it takes intelligence and leadership, which these guys seem to lack. From here, it looks like they are bullies that fell in love with the taste of power they had.

  • Lightfoot3 Jul 26, 2012

    I see quite a bit of bull droppings in the comments. And it looks like some are confusing what they actually did, versus what they saw in a movie. If the guy TRULY was falling asleep, there's all kinds of ways to motivate him without resorting to what happened. And you do it per incident. This ongoing abuse seems pretty clear that it was racially motivated for whatever reason. Maybe it started out as "corrective training", but it seems the bullies liked the taste of it and wanted more.


    I remember my first days, and hearing the gunny refer to a slightly chubby Asian guy as "rice bowl". That's as far as it went, and I never heard it again. These guys on the other hand, are bad apples.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jul 25, 2012

    Willemakeit - "The system definately failed this young soldier. So sad the very people responsible for his well being contribmore uted to his demise. This kind of behavior goes on all the time, more often in active component units. Sad but true."

    You want a repeatedly sleeping guard guarding you while you sleep?

  • more cowbell Jul 25, 2012

    The system definately failed this young soldier. So sad the very people responsible for his well being contribmore uted to his demise. This kind of behavior goes on all the time, more often in active component units. Sad but true.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jul 25, 2012

    It all boils down to this folks, which type of guard would YOU want protecting YOUR loved ones - an awake one or an asleep one???

    That's all our soldiers want (and deserve) too.

    The story said this happened before, so this soldier had received "corrective action" before and continued to fall asleep on duty.

    Had the "corrective action" been that grievous, he'd have learned the lesson and would have stayed awake - don't you think???

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jul 25, 2012

    pooh - "If it was a problem for him to stay awake, during guard duty then maybe (before he went on actual guard duty) they could let him and others rest up so they won't be falling asleep?"

    You're joking, right?

    A soldier, especially one serving in a battle zone, is on duty 24/7/365, and obviously there were at least two on duty at the same time, because someone kept finding him asleep - that was the other guard.

  • poohpdoo2002 Jul 25, 2012

    This all could have been settled without being violent against him. If it was a problem for him to stay awake, during guard duty then maybe (before he went on actual guard duty) they could let him and others rest up so they won't be falling asleep? Common sense. Or if there are a couple of soldiers on duty at the same time, take shifts by using a watch with an alarm. They are all overworked and stressed out over there. They are fighting in the trenches with each other, so why not be able to cover each other and watch each other's back from time to time. I know it's done.

  • lizard Jul 25, 2012

    "about us as human beings,"

    Know what you're saying 'cause he's one of our own. But misplaced compassion can get a bunch of people killed quickly in the "zone." I still don't like the way it was not handled but my original point was to let people know just how serious a violation the "suicidee" had committed. Even more reason to handle it properly for the unit's sake. I still think there's more to the case.

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