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Sergeant faces 30 days, demotion over soldier's suicide

The Fayetteville Observer via AP

Army Sgt. Adam Holcomb, right, of Youngstown, Ohio, speaks with his defense attorney Capt. Dennis Hernon as they leave the Fort Bragg Courthouse in Fayetteville, N.C. on July 24.

An Army sergeant found guilty of maltreating and assaulting Pvt. Danny Chen, who committed suicide in Afghanistan in Oct. 2011, was sentenced to a reduction in rank and 30 days in confinement, the military announced Tuesday. The sentence was sharply rejected by the Chinese-American soldier's advocates as too light.

In a court-martial that concluded Monday at Fort Bragg, N.C., Sgt. Adam Holcomb was found innocent of the more serious charges — including negligent homicide and reckless endangerment — in connection with the death of Chen, a Chinese-American soldier. Prosecutors had alleged that Chen was driven to kill himself due to abuse by his superiors.

"This trial has always been about the danger to an Asian-American soldier under a failed leadership," Elizabeth OuYang, New York branch president of OCA, a national civil rights organization serving Asian Pacific Americans, said in an email. "The racial humiliation, the hazing, and blatant neglect by the accused endangered Private Chen's life and contributed to his death. For the conviction of assault and two counts of maltreatment, a sentence of thirty days hardly equates with Private Danny Chen's life being cut short at age 19."

Holcomb, assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, was also demoted to an E-4 rank, resulting in forfeiture of $1,181 in pay, Fort Bragg said in a press release.


Holcomb, 30, and seven others were charged in connection with the death of Chen, who died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on Oct. 3 in Afghanistan.

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Chen, the son of immigrant parents who grew up in New York City’s Chinatown, was found dead at a guard tower with his rifle lying next to him at Combat Outpost Palace in the Panjwa'i district of Kandahar province.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters file

A portrait of U.S. Army Private Danny Chen is displayed during his funeral procession in New York October 13, 2011.

Army via AP

Pvt. Danny Chen

OuYang said Regional Command-South investigators found that almost immediately after he arrived in mid-August, Chen, the only Chinese American in his platoon, was required to do exercises that crossed over to alleged abuse.

Some of the alleged abuse was inflicted by one soldier and some by a group, according to OuYang, who was briefed on the investigation. 

Investigators also found evidence that the platoon sergeant and the platoon leader — the top two officers in the unit — were aware of an attack on Chen on Sept. 27 and chose not to report it, OuYang said.

According to testimony, Holcomb injured Chen by dragging him across gravel after the lower-ranked soldier left a water pump on in a shower at their remote base in Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

Holcomb also was accused of calling Chen racially derogatory names such as "dragon lady," "Jackie Chen," and "egg roll," the report said.

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