Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representatives Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Mike Honda (D-CA) called on the U.S. Army to provide a comprehensive review on how the department tracks its hazing and harassment incidents and implements anti-hazing training. The urging by the four members of Congress comes after Army investigators found that a New York resident, Private Danny Chen, was subjected to daily race-based hazing and physical abuse by members of his platoon in the lead-up to his death. The lawmakers also requested details on what current measures are in place for soldiers in remote bases to report hazing incidents when their entire chain of command is implicated. Last month, Senator Gillibrand called on the Defense Department for a system-wide review of bullying and mistreatment. The Senator asked for a Department-wide review because of the case of Marine Pvt. Hamson McPherson, Jr., a Staten Island Marine who committed suicide, allegedly due to hazing. The Defense Department is expected to provide a briefing in the coming weeks.
Senator Gillibrand, along with Representatives Velázquez, Chu, and Honda wrote in a letter to U.S. Army Secretary McHugh, “We are very concerned about the reports of the constant hazing, apparently mixed with racial slurs, and other mistreatment by [Danny Chen’s] fellow soldiers and his direct superiors. We know you share our concern and take this issue very seriously, and we support the guidance issued in your hazing memo on January 13, 2012. Our men and women in uniform deserve to serve in a supportive environment from their fellow soldiers as they put their lives on the line for our country… However in light of this shocking incident, we would like to better understand the education and training process that are provided to Army soldiers and recruits regarding hazing and harassment among the force, as well as the repercussions and disciplinary measures taken in such incidents.”
“The details I have learned about the tragedy of Danny Chen and other soldiers are heartbreaking,” said Senator Gillibrand. “No soldier should have to mentally or physically fear another soldier or supervisor and those responsible for abuse must be held accountable. We need a full review of all abuse cases across the Army and take the actions necessary to prevent future tragedies from happening.”
“We need a full understanding of the Army’s policies related to hazing to ensure incidents like this never happen again,” said Congresswoman Velázquez.
“It has become increasingly clear that hazing and harassment must be addressed throughout our armed services,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-32). “In the case of Private Danny Chen, his Chinese heritage led to violent racial discrimination and harsh treatment. This raises serious questions about the Army’s focus on preventing hazing and fighting. My nephew took his own life after enduring hazing and physical assault. I know firsthand the pain a family faces when hazing leads to the loss of a loved one, and it is something no family should have to endure.”
“Nearly 30 years after Vincent Chin’s murder, our nation is shocked and saddened by another hate-induced tragedy,” said Congressman Mike Honda. “The hazing of Private Danny Chen, that allegedly caused his death, is an urgent call to action. We must act now to ensure that the Department of Defense has effective diversity training and stricter enforcement policies to guarantee that our service members – no matter their background – are able to safely and honorably defend the citizens and the Constitution of the United States. I hope that the House Committees on Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform will take these warnings seriously and hold hearings in order to protect our brave service members from any future danger.”
As part of the Congressional group’s 10 questions posed to the Army, the lawmakers also asked the Army what the threshold is between corrective training and prohibited hazing.
Earlier this month, U.S. Army investigators revealed that 19 year-old Danny Chen was subjected to chronic race-based hazing and physical abuse by his superiors and comrades. Eight members of his platoon were charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and dereliction of duty. An earlier case reveals that another Asian American soldier subjected to hazing committed suicide. The death of Lance Corporal Harry Lew led to the court-martial of several Marines in February for their roles in his death.
Full text of the lawmakers’ letter is below:
Dear Secretary McHugh:
As you know, in October 2011, Private Danny Chen was found dead at his Combat Outpost (COP) apparently of a self-inflicted wound. We are very concerned about the reports of the constant hazing, apparently mixed with racial slurs, and other mistreatment by his fellow soldiers and his direct superiors. We know you share our concern and take this issue very seriously, and we support the guidance issued in your hazing memo on January 13, 2012. Our men and women in uniform deserve to serve in a supportive environment from their fellow soldiers as they put their lives on the line for our country. Hazing and harassment undermine the discipline that is fundamental to keeping America’s Army the best in the world.
We appreciate the Army’s briefings to our offices on this case and the broader questions regarding anti-hazing policies, and the internal investigations of this incident. However in light of this shocking incident, we would like to better understand the education and training process that are provided to Army soldiers and recruits regarding hazing and harassment among the force, as well as the repercussions and disciplinary measures taken in such incidents. To that end, we would appreciate receiving answers to the following questions:
1. Does the Army track reports of hazing? If so, we would like to know how many incidents of hazing occurred in the Army during 2011? How many incidents of hazing occurred in the Army during the last five years?
2. We understand that Army Command Policy AR 600-20 outlines the anti-hazing rules for the service. When is the last time that policy was reviewed and/or updated?
3. We also understand that the anti-hazing regulations are punitive, per AR 600-20 Chp 4-9 paragraph 3d. In the past 5 years, have there been punitive charges brought up against any Army Soldier under this provision?
4. We likewise heard from some of the briefers that AR 600-20 is part of both basic and pre-deployment training. Does the Army highlight this issue in its training? Is it part of and/or highlighted in leadership training? Is this an issue under review in light of the Chen case? It would be helpful to receive training materials so we can understand how this issue is presented during training.
5. How does the Army document and substantiate the effectiveness of the hazing and harassment education and training that is provided? Is it specifically highlighted in command climate surveys?
6. Do commanding officers provide any reports about hazing or other harassment incidents up their chain of command, through the Inspector General or other means, regardless of what action they determine should be taken?
7. What is the avenue for reporting of hazing or other harassment outside the immediate commander in cases where the commander is implicated in the harassment? What systems are in place for Soldiers deployed to remote bases to report cases of hazing or harassment when their chain of command is implicated?
8. What is the Army’s policy for handling units where there is a series of hazing incidents? Are there such cases in the past five years?
9. What is the dividing line between corrective training and prohibited hazing? Who is allowed to impose corrective training and what are Army soldiers taught about corrective training?
10. How are education, training programs, and policies modified or adapted to meet changing requirements based on the effectiveness of the programs? Are climate surveys used to incorporate any necessary changes?
We appreciate your immediate attention to this request, and we look forward to hearing from you.