Local News

Comrades: Soldier who killed himself received 'corrective training'

Posted July 25, 2012 12:28 p.m. EDT
Updated July 26, 2012 10:48 a.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.