The Maryland National Guard announced on Wednesday, May 26, that it will not challenge the finding that a Black guard member was subjected to racism on the basis of his skin color when he was forced to wear a chain as a form of discipline while in Officer Candidate School in 2015.
Sgt. Bruce Weaver first filed the complaint alleging discrimination in 2017 after he was dropped from the program for failure to make progress, and last month the National Guard Bureau ruled that Weaver had proven his claims.
The bureau called the punishment “the most humiliating punishment imaginable” for a Black soldier.
According to a copy of the decision obtained by USA Today, the bureau recommended that Weaver be allowed to re-enter Officer Candidate School and advised that Maryland consider disciplinary action for those involved in the discrimination.
The Maryland National Guard will request an exemption to the age limit of 42 for soldiers to commission as officers to allow Weaver, now 44, to re-enter.
“The Maryland National Guard carefully reviewed the hearing examiner’s recommendations and is requesting an exception to policy from the National Guard Bureau that may grant an age-restricting waiver for the Soldier to re-enroll in Officer Candidate School,” a spokesman for the National Guard said.
Weaver was subjected to the punishment in 2015 because he and others in his group had left another training site without proper authorization, according to retired Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Carbaugh (Weaver disputes the leaving-without-authorization claim). Carbaugh says Weaver and other Black and white officer candidates in the group were ordered to carry the chain, an ammunition can and a rock as part of the discipline.
“I can understand the optics of the picture look very bad,” Carbaugh said to USA Today of an image of Weaver in uniform with the chain draped over his shoulder and wrapped around his wrist. “However, the intent was not what you see in the picture.”
According to Weaver, he was forced to wear the chain for three days while a group of all-white trainers hectored him.
“At first, my inclination was to drag it,” Weaver recalled. “They said, ‘No, no. You wear it. That will keep you down.’ That hit me. That hit me. I suppressed it and kept going. The next day, they said, ‘You’re still wearing this chain.’ I told them this is inappropriate punishment. It’s also messing with me psychologically. Chains mean something to Black people.”
A report from the bureau claims, “SFC Carbaugh knew precisely what the chain would mean to both Complainant and the other cadets. SFC Carbaugh wanted to teach Complainant a lesson about who was in charge and he used a heavy chain to accomplish this and the rest of the OCS (Officer Candidate School) Cadre let him,” the Bureau report stated. “The allegation of discrete discrimination based on race or color is SUBSTANTIATED.”
In 2017, the Maryland National Guard stopped using chains as punishment, agreeing their use could be interpreted as racist.
The instructor cadre, previously composed of only white trainers in 2015, is now composed of 10 white troops, six Black and one Hispanic member.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs a House Armed Services Committee panel on personnel, blasted the instructors’ treatment of weaver.
“The cruelty and degradation of forcing a Black service member to wear chains is beyond vile and inhuman,” she said.