After two New York City soldiers killed themselves while serving abroad in the past year, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling on the Department of Defense to create a database so soldiers can anonymously report hazing incidents.
Right now, the Defense Department does not have a database in place to monitor reports of alleged hazing. That makes it difficult to determine how widespread the problem really is, said Gilibrand, a Democrat who represents New York State.
Gillibrand introduced a bill today, which would create a system where soldiers can anonymously report being bullied, to protect those who fear retaliation from their peers or commanders.
The bill comes after two soldiers from New York City took their lives in the past 12 months.
Private Danny Chen shot himself in the head in October while in Afghanistan. In December, eight soldiers from his unit were hit with charges relating to his death, after they were accused of mercilessly teasing him. Last May, Marine Pvt. Hamson McPherson, Jr., from Staten Island, killed himself while stationed in Okinawa. His father said his son’s death came after he reported having problems with other Marines in his unit.
“No soldier should have to mentally or physically fear another soldier,” said Gillibrand. “We need to ensure that those responsible for this type of abuse are held accountable.”
Through the proposed database, the military would be able to track and respond to hazing incidents. The military must respond to each and every complaint; and Gillibrand’s bill would require the Secretary of Defense to provide a plan that outlines new steps the military would take to track and punish hazing.
Right now, each branch of the Armed Forces has its own punishment for hazing, and even its own definition of what constitutes hazing. But Gillibrand’s bill would require a uniform definition of what hazing is to be used across the military.
What happened to Danny Chen?
Chen, 19, was found shot in the head in a guard tower in October, which the Army attributed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
His parents — Chinese immigrants who live on the Lower East Side and speak little English — said the Army told them specific ways he was abused before he died.
Chen was forced to crawl on gravel while soldiers threw rocks at him, and was separately taunted and mocked, all because he was the only Chinese-American in his unit, Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans, who speaks on behalf of the family.
He was called “dragon lady” and derogatory phrases, OuYang said, and soldiers told him to give orders in Chinese while they mocked him. He was also forced to do multiple push-ups and sprints. On Sept. 27, OuYang said, a sergeant dragged Chen out of bed and over gravel, which left him with shoulder bruises and cuts on his back. The top two leaders of Chen’s platoon knew about the abuse, she said, but chose not to report it.
Eight soldiers in his unit — including one officer — face an array of charges, from negligent homicide to making false statements.
A father in disbelief
Hamson McPherson, of Staten Island, has said he doesn’t believe his son, Marine Pvt. Hamson McPherson, Jr., 21, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, as the Marines claim.
McPherson said he was shown a suicide note, but it was not in his son’s handwriting. He said his son also called him many times, complaining about problems he was having with other Marines in his unit.
"He said, 'Daddy, I'm having a problem with a fellow Marine. He is white.' This Marine constantly called him a 'cotton picking [n-word],'" McPherson told CBS. "I said it’s not over yet. You got to watch your back now. They’re going to snake you."