Witness: Soldier looked 'broken' before suicide
Posted July 26, 2012
Fort Bragg, N.C. — A soldier who committed suicide in Afghanistan last year talked of killing himself because his superiors mistreated him, witnesses testified Thursday.
Military officials say Pvt. Danny Chen shot himself on Oct. 3 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 like "dragon Lady" 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.
Pfc. Degan Berhe, who found Chen's body after the suicide, testified that Chen had once mentioned a desire to take his own life.
"He told me that he wanted to commit suicide because of the way he was mistreated by Sgt. Holcomb," Berhe said, adding that he waited five days to give that information to someone outside his unit because he felt uncomfortable with his immediate superiors.
"I thought they wouldn't take me seriously. I didn't know whom I should trust," he said.
Pfc. Brian Johnson said Chen was "excited and nervous" about deploying last September from their home base at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Once overseas, they were assigned to different platoons, and Johnson said he noticed a change in his friend the next time he saw him.
"To me, he seemed completely broken," Johnson said. "It was someone who lost all care or hope."
Chen told him he was getting in trouble for no reason, he said.
Johnson did support the defense's argument that Chen was depressed because of difficulties with his family.
"They were not happy with his decision to deploy, and he told me that his family was disowning him," Johnson said.
He said that, before the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division deployed, he found Chen curled up in the fetal position in bed after missing a morning formation.
He told Chen that his fellow soldiers would be there for him as a "surrogate family," and by the next day, Chen was smiling and "back to his normal self."
Yan Tao Chen on Wednesday disputed the notion that the family had disowned his son, calling Danny Chen's military service "a glorious thing."
Other soldiers testified Wednesday that Danny Chen felt frustrated by the name-calling and the harsh "corrective training" he received because he often fell asleep on guard duty.
The prosecution rested its case Wednesday, and the first defense witness, Sgt. Dave Dumar, said he never witnessed Holcomb being abusive to soldiers.
Dumar also said Holcomb saved his life after an improvised explosive device went off near their unit.
The court-martial is expected to last until at least Saturday.