Army Platoon in Alaska Investigated for Holding 'Racial Thursdays'
The Army is investigating a platoon in Fort Wainwright, Alaska over allegations that its soldiers were allowed to use racial slurs against each other during what was known as “Racial Thursdays.”
"When I first got to my unit, someone said we should do 'Racial Thursdays' because it's been a tradition," a black soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Army Times. "It's something they made up where you can say any racist remark you want without any consequences. The platoon sergeant said no, but the shit is still going on."
The soldier, a staff sergeant who has been in the Army for 10 years, filed an equal opportunity complaint against his platoon leader, who he says tacitly encouraged "Racial Thursdays" as a way to build morale and camaraderie.
The soldiers involved in the case belong to the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, according to a member of the unit.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, told the Army Times that it is preferable that complaints be handled at the lowest levels through the chain-of-command. He later said in a statement that, "If civilians and service members are unable to find a resolution at the lowest levels, they have the right to pursue their claims, respectively, through established civilian equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint processes or military EO complaint or inspector general processes, as appropriate."
But the soldier said he went to the media because the “unit has a bad habit of sweeping things under the rug."
Another soldier backed up the staff sergeant’s accusation and recalled a Thursday when a fellow serviceman was targeted.
"A soldier I'm pretty good friends with, he was getting picked on the whole entire day until we were off work," he said. "He's Latino. They were calling him wetback, border jumper, those kinds of jokes. He would say some jokes back, but he got to the point where he wanted it to stop. He and another soldier almost got into a fight, and guys had to step in between them and keep them apart."
Ironically, this is the same platoon that Pvt. Danny Chen belonged to. He committed suicide Oct. 3, 2011 while deployed in Afghanistan. Authorities said Chen killed himself after being hazed because of his Chinese ancestry. On the day of his death, Chen was forced to crawl 100 yards across gravel holding his equipment. His fellow soldiers threw rocks at him while he did it, Chen’s family said. At least eight soldiers were disciplined in that case. Some were court-martialed, while others were administratively punished.
Lt. Col. Alan Brown, a spokesman for the command, said the “Racial Thursdays” and Chen cases aren’t related.
"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."
The junior soldier who spoke to Army Times added that it is hard for non-white service men and women to speak out on such issues.
"For the soldiers who are minorities, we don't want to be looked down upon or looked at as outcasts or traitors or Blue Falcons, so we didn't open our mouths," he said.