Lawmakers representing the Asian, black and Hispanic caucuses in Congress are calling on the Defense Department to end racial hazing within the military following allegations of a practice called "Racial Thursdays" among a platoon of soldiers in Alaska.
"We uphold the military to the highest moral standards, and the fact that hazing continues without [sic] impunity in your ranks is completely incompatible with the ideals of equality and respect we champion as a nation," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. "Our brave service members risk their lives to serve our country, and it is unacceptable that they continue to face the threat of hazing and racial taunting from their fellow soldiers, with little to no intervention from their command."
The letter, dated May 1, was written by leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, collectively known as the Tri-Caucus.
"The [Defense] Department has received the letter from the representatives and will respond promptly and directly to them," said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DoD spokesman. "We appreciate their concerns regarding this issue."
In March, Army Times reported that the Army had launched an AR 15-6 investigation into allegations that a platoon of soldiers was given a free pass to use racial slurs against each other during what was known as "Racial Thursdays."
The soldiers in question belong to 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. The unit belongs to the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The investigation is still ongoing, said Lt. Col. Alan Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Army Alaska, on Monday.
"We are currently conducting a thorough investigation that addresses these allegations," he Brown said in a statement. "The command was made aware of these allegations through its established equal opportunity reporting process. Recognizing the seriousness of these allegations, the command immediately assigned an investigating officer, and that investigation is ongoing. Once the investigation is complete, the command will take appropriate action based on those findings."
From left: Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calf.; and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.
Photo Credit: Staff
The members of Congress who wrote the letter to Carter include Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., whose nephew Lance Cpl. Harry Lew killed himself in Afghanistan in April 2011 after hours of alleged abuse by his fellow Marines, who were angry with him for falling asleep multiple times while he was on watch.
The letter highlights that the unit where "Racial Thursdays" allegedly took place is the same unit that Pvt. Danny Chen belonged to.
Chen committed suicide in October 2011, also while deployed to Afghanistan.
Authorities said Chen killed himself because he was hazed over his Chinese ancestry.
Chen was called names while in training, then was subjected to hazing after he was deployed to Afghanistan, according to his family. On the day of his death, Chen was forced to crawl about 100 yards across gravel carrying his equipment while his fellow soldiers threw rocks at him, the family said.
At least eight soldiers were either court-martialed or administratively punished in the case.
"There is absolutely no connection between this current investigation and the case of Pvt. Danny Chen," Brown said in March.
"We are encouraged that the Army is investigating the allegations surrounding "Racial Thursdays" and request that you update us on what steps the military is taking to eradicate hazing at all levels of its branches," the members of Congress wrote in their letter to Carter. "We would like to discuss this urgent matter with you and respectfully request a meeting at your earliest convenience. We must put an end to this demeaning culture of racism and hazing in the military, and we look forward to working with you to find effective solutions."