Specialist Adam Jerrell tells BET.com about the racism he experienced in the National Guard.
The stresses of going to war in another country are hard enough to deal with, but while in Afghanistan in 2009, Specialist Adam Jarrell not only had to fight the enemy in the foreign country, but also within his own team.
Jarrell, 23, has been a member of the military since 2006. Being the only Black in his platoon has never bothered him, but once he became a member of the National Guard the jokes were no longer out of comraderie. “That wasn’t playing around, that was hatred,” he tells BET.com.
On an almost daily basis he was talked down to and called “mayate,” the Mexican-American derogatory term of “n-----” by non-commissioned officers. He suffered racially motivated harassment and even found a noose outside of his barrack, which he says was the “last straw.”
“I have filed complaint after complaint with my equal opportunity representatives for the state for the National Guard. I’ve filed complaints with the Inspector General’s office of the National Guard and the Army. I have filed numerous complaints while I was in Afghanistan, and I have also filed several complaints, through e-mail, to the Command Sergeant Major of the EO. They have all failed to do anything about it,” he says.
After his complaints were also ignored when back in Arizona, Jarrell made contact with a senator who promised to arrange a meeting with the general. When the general did not show up, a colonel below the general met with Jarrell.
“That colonel literally told me from his own mouth that I should not be offended at the word ‘mayate’ because to some old-school Hispanics, that just means ‘that Black guy over there.‘ When I responded to him I said, ‘I understand that; the problem is that I’m in the U.S. Army, just like you are, and whenever I address you, I have to address you as Col. Romero. So
why am I just "that Black guy over there" instead of Specialist Jarrell?'”
After the meeting, Jarell says, no follow-up was ever made by the general’s office to address the hatred he experienced.
In response to no one paying attention to his complaints, Jarrell took his concern to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Last Monday, through the ACLU, Jarrell filed a racial discrimination complaint with the federal office for civil rights with the Department of Justice.
“I’m not gonna put up with it, and how could I ever be expected to? With me being a law enforcement officer in the civilian world, my job is to uphold the law, and if somebody is gonna break the law against me, and I’m not willing to take care of myself, how can anybody expect me to take care of everybody else?” he says.
On top of the anxiety that war brings alone, Jarrell calls his time with his unit “stressful and depressing.” He reveals that when you’re in Afghanistan, or any other part of the military, you become dependent on other soldiers to be your friends, to lift your spirits. “The problem is that when I was over there, not only did they screw with me, but anybody who wanted to be my friend got bad treatment as well,” he says.
Though he has gotten a lot of media coverage over the last week, Jarrell says that he has done everything in his power to keep this from going public because he did not want the entire National Guard to look bad.
Additionally, Jarrell says that he is not seeking money right now. This is not a lawsuit. He simply wants the five soldiers mentioned in his complaint to be dishonorably discharged with zero benefits from the military or the government. He wants to make sure that other soldiers don’t have the same thing happen to them.
“I would rather the guard look back today than send another 200 soldiers to Afghanistan and next time somebody actually get hung, or somebody get killed over racism. I rather we look back [at my situation] than somebody lose their life.”
In response to critics who may ask why he is complaining now about an incident that happened in 2009, Jarrell says that he has been complaining and that “no soldier should have to go this far to get something done.”
The New Mexico National Guard said it is investigating the complaint.
(Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)