An Army investigation found no evidence that a platoon of soldiers was given a free pass to use racial slurs against each other during what they called "Racial Thursdays," contradicting allegations made by a staff sergeant that the platoon leader encouraged such a practice.
The AR 15-6 investigation, which was launched March 19, completed May 1 and released in redacted form Friday, found that such an event "was not a sanctioned, formal event held by or within" 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, the report states.
The investigator — whose name, like all others in the 23-page report, is redacted — interviewed all 48 soldiers in the platoon and another 84 soldiers within the battalion, the report states. While "limited use of racial jokes within the unit amongst junior enlisted Soldiers" were discovered, only one allegation of a racially insensitive remark was substantiated.
The investigation also concluded that "there are no systemic issues of racial or other forms of discrimination" within the unit, and that while one sergeant recalled participating in "Racial Thursdays" when he joined the unit in 2009, the practice stopped that same year.
In March, Army Times first broke the news about the alleged "Racial Thursdays" within the unit, which belongs to the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The story gained widespread media attention, putting a spotlight on race relations in the Army.
The staff sergeant who spoke with Army Times, a member of 2nd Platoon, said "Racial Thursdays" was a tradition still in place with the unit, that he'd filed an equal opportunity complaint against his platoon leader, and that racial tensions had nearly led to a fight on at least one occasion involving a Latino soldier.
The investigator found that no member of the platoon's chain of command endorsed the practice, that the complainant was the only noncommissioned officer in the chain of command that had heard the term "Racial Thursdays," and that the allegations surrounding the near-fight may have stemmed from an incident when one soldier teased another who was sensitive about his weight, finding a picture on Facebook of him as a child, eating cake.
In response to text messages seeking his view on the report, the staff sergeant who made the initial allegations, who asked to remain anonymous, refused further comment.
Col. Donn Hill, the brigade commander, ordered the 15-6 investigation.
After the investigation was completed and approved by Hill, it was sent to U.S. Army Pacific, which is the higher headquarters for U.S. Army Alaska.
USARPAC appointed Brig. Gen. Eric Sanchez, commander of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, to review the report. Sanchez later signed off on it as well, U.S. Army Alaska spokesman Lt. Col. Alan Brown said.
Among other details in the report:
- Of the 48 soldiers in 2nd Platoon, 13 said they had heard of "Racial Thursdays," but none of them could remember where it originated. None of them had participated in such an event, nor could any of them cite a specific example of such an incident.
- The soldier who brought the complaint to the command's attention also could not identify specific examples of "Racial Thursday."
- Some junior soldiers used the term "Racial Thursday" as way to defuse conversations that were edging toward inappropriate. A soldier might respond to a racially charged comment by saying "save that for 'Racial Thursday,' " for example.
- Unrelated to the "Racial Thursday" allegation, an NCO was found to have used the term "haji" to refer to a junior Muslim soldier. The investigating officer calls for "appropriate administrative action" to be taken.
- A second incident involving a soldier who complained that he believed two NCOs were teasing him about his driving ability because he is Asian was partially substantiated – the senior enlisted officers admitted to making the jokes, but said they weren't racially motivated, stemming instead from a previous accident involving the soldier. One of the two NCOs was counseled and removed from his position within the unit, Brown said.
Along with recommendations regarding punishment in the two previously aforementioned incidents, the report calls on Charlie Company to conduct an equal opportunity standdown.
The entire brigade conducted such a standdown on April 17, Brown said. The daylong training included small-group discussions and practical exercises. The soldiers also discussed clips from the movie "American History X," Brown said.
The investigating officer also recommended that one of the leaders in the platoon — his position is redacted — be "reinstated but counseled" for not taking action when he heard the term "Racial Thursday" used in his platoon, according to the report.
The leader stated during the course of the investigation that he never used the term and no evidence was collected to show otherwise, but "he did state that he heard the term used by junior enlisted soldiers during a platoon formation and did nothing to stop it," according to the report.
"This lack of intervention could have been seen by soldiers as acceptance," according to the investigation. "Had he addressed the issue when he first heard the term used, he could have stopped its use and reinforced the unit's zero tolerance policy. The evidence collected does indicate, however, that but for this one incident, he is considered by those under him to be a good leader."
In his report, the investigation officer wrote that he believed the leader "should be afforded the opportunity to recover from this incident and be given the chance in the future to lead troops."
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The Army's investigation showed the equal opportunity process worked in a timely manner, Brown said.
"We take these types of allegations extremely seriously," he said. "This alleged behavior is completely contrary to our values and has no place in the Army."
NOTE: From our previous story, if you would like to add it to the current story:
The unit where "Racial Thursdays" allegedly took place is the same unit that Pvt. Danny Chen belonged to.
Chen, who belonged to C Company, committed suicide Oct. 3, 2011, 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. "Treating all soldiers with dignity and respect is something this command takes extremely seriously, and when there are any indications that those values are not being followed, the command will absolutely make inquiries, conduct appropriate investigations and take action as necessary."