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Soldier cleared in hazing death demoted, has pay docked

Posted July 31, 2012

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— After clearing a soldier of negligent homicide in the suicide death of one of his subordinates, a military jury on Tuesday sentenced the soldier to one month of confinement, loss of rank and forfeiture of one month's pay.

Sgt. Adam Holcomb, 30, of Youngstown, Ohio, was also acquitted Monday of hazing in the Oct. 3 death of Pvt. Danny Chen, who shot and killed himself in a guardhouse at a combat base in Afghanistan.

The 10-member jury found Holcomb guilty of maltreatment and assault consummated by battery. He was demoted one rank, to E4, and his loss of pay amounts to $1,181.

Military prosecutors alleged that Holcomb and seven other soldiers physically and emotionally abused Chen, 19, for weeks leading up to his death.

According to court documents, Chen 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.

Holcomb faced up to 2½ years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, and prosecutor Maj. Stephen Hernandez said the jury needed to send a message that "there is no justification to drag a soldier."

"(He) left a bleeding Danny Chen on the gravel with no medic in sight," Hernandez said.

Maj. Bret Batdorff, the military judge overseeing the court-martial, cut Hernandez off in his closing argument after he made several inadmissible references, including that Holcomb never apologized to Chen's family.

The defense objected to that statement, saying Holcomb has the right to remain silent in the case.

"Jail time is absolutely not appropriate in this case," defense attorney Capt. Dennis Hernon said in his closing argument.

Army Pvt. Danny Chen Chinese-American community says soldier's punishment not enough

"He will always have the stigma of being convicted at a court-martial," Hernon said. "Suffice it to say, Sgt. Holcomb has been punished enough."

Holcomb, a married father of three, was the first of eight soldiers to be tried in Chen's death, and the case attracted scrutiny from Chinese groups in the U.S. and abroad, who questioned whether the military discriminates against Asian members.

"Thirty days confinement hardly equates with Private Chen's life being cut short at the age of 19," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Chen grew up in New York, and his family and supporters in the Chinese-American community attended the six-day trial at Fort Bragg.

"Asian-American parents will be petrified to send their sons and daughters to the Army with superiors convicted of racial maltreatment," OuYang said. "There is no room for any so-called superior who harbors racist feelings to be in the Army."

"There is no place in the Army for a leader who discriminates against a subordinate with such reckless disregard for human life," OuYang said. "Asian-American parents will be petrified to allow their children to enlist in the military if superiors convicted of racial discrimination continue to serve in the military."

Holcomb's mother and brother said three combat deployments, where he saw his comrades maimed, put him under great emotional stress.

"He did what they said he did. He was guilty of that, OK?" Valerie Holcomb said of her son. "Now you stand up for it and take the task that comes with it."

"We're glad that justice was served and he gets to stay in the military because that was his biggest thing. He loved to serve, and he loved to help," Patrick Holcomb said.

Chen served with the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Seven of the eight courts-martial have been moved to Fort Bragg at the request of Maj. Gen. James Huggins, commander of the Bragg-based 82nd Airborne commander who oversaw Chen's unit during deployment.

The second court-martial in Chen's death is scheduled to begin Aug. 13.

48 Comments

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  • loprestw Aug 1, 2012

    I guess no one here ever had to serve in the military or know what it is like to have to go to war and have weak soldiers you have to discipline. And sometime you have to put your hands on them to make them into soldiers to do a job you people will not do. People like piene2 and fayncmike, be glad that law abiding citizens buy six shooters to keep you guys safe so you can continue critiquing everyone who has served.

  • piene2 Jul 31, 2012

    Wow, military justice is eroding fast. This disgusting excuse for a soldier should spend long years on Leavenworth. He does not deserve to be in the military and i sure do not want to see him in the civilian population.

  • La Mangosta Negra Jul 31, 2012

    Look, the purpose of hazing in combat arms units is to identify the weak and weed them out. These men develop a bond and attempt to create an environment of strict discipline and loyalty. No Soldier should be pushed to point of suicide. I recently retired from the 82nd Airborne Division as a senior leader (Iraq 2x, Afghanistan 3x). I certainly didn't allow any of my Paratroopers to be abused morally or ethically. On the other hand I did allow them to get trained and prepared for combat with a relentless and overwhelming amount a personal attention from their leaders. This just got out of hand.

  • OSX Jul 31, 2012

    I don't know, maybe times have changed. When I was in, I was the small timid guy. I had enough and finally starting to hit back. I did the same thing to the new kids before I got out. The older guys were like big brothers that I looked up too. We would start a fight on the ship just to do it. We would fight... anywhere. Your older brothers might beat you up, but without a doubt, nobody else will beat you up. I am sad for him. There is more to this because I am sure he had people that cared about him there.

    You sleep in peace young man...

  • La Mangosta Negra Jul 31, 2012

    Are you guys kidding me? COL. Johnson walked the dog and only got a letter of reprimand and fined. The UCMJ needs to be revised, because enlisted soldiers don't stand a chance.

  • DavidJonathan Jul 31, 2012

    Doesn't seem like much punsihment. Wasn't this a pattern of harassment? Not just one or two events?

  • LANCER6 Jul 31, 2012

    No 2sassy4u...we serve a Nation that values every life. Every Soldier/Airman/Sailor/Marine swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and from the first day we placed our trust and lives in our fellow Soldier/Airmen/Sailor/Marine. That is why we still search the hills of Korea and jungles of Vietnam for our missing. That is why we give full military honors when we find the remains no matter which war.
    So NO, we beleive that one is as important as the many. It is a core belief.

    Every Service has one:
    I am an American Soldier.
    I am a warrior and a member of a team.
    I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
    I will always place the mission first.
    I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional.

  • ladyblue Jul 31, 2012

    IMO,I think he should of been dishorably discharged after jail time since he was his superior,but all he got was a slap on the wrist for his actions and the others involved as well.should of been dishonorably discharged.....we don't need such men representing our decent military soldiers, making it look bad for the hard working ones who follow the rules...he was a joke to the military character.

  • LANCER6 Jul 31, 2012

    Before you attack my credentials (30 years, 4 Combat tours in Afghan and Iraq), think I know a thing or two about the Army, and Soldiers and the difference between a Warrior and a Frat Boy.
    Holcomb took an Oath, he was a Non-Commisione Officer (NCO) a Sergeant...someone every Soldier looks to for mentorship, guidance and leadership. No matter what you think of PVT Chen...he stood up when our Country called...did you? He listened to what the Army taught him...obey and respect your NCO's and they will bring you home and we failed him. Imagine the tension and fear of being on patrol outside the wire and coming back to the hell Holcomb put him through...yes many at fault here...but Holcomb was Chen's Sarge.

    The results of this trial is far more costly than 1 stripe and 1 months pay...we lost an American Soldier. Tell me what the price of a life is?

    My thoughts and prayers to PVT Chen's family. May he rest with Angels.

  • daughters of anarchy Jul 31, 2012

    Thank you boneymaroney13 sometimes I think I've got more backbone than some men now.

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