SAVANNAH, Ga. — In a letter home, a Jewish soldier in basic training at Fort Benning complained of religious discrimination and wrote that a friend overheard platoon members saying they wanted to beat him up.
Days later, Pvt. Michael Handman was beaten so badly he had to be treated at a hospital, and his father believes the attack stemmed from an investigation of Handman's claims that instructors had harassed him and used anti-Semitic slurs.
"I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion," Handman wrote to his parents. "I just feel like I'm always looking over my shoulder. Like my battle buddy heard some of the guys in my platoon talking about how they wanted to beat the (expletive) out of me tonight while I'm sleeping."
The letter alarmed Handman's father so much he contacted U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who asked the Army to investigate.
Handman, 20, of Atlanta wrote to his parents that he was heading to take a shower on Sept. 24, four days after investigators interviewed him about the harassment, when another soldier called him into the laundry room, saying some of Handman's clothes were in a pile on the floor. Handman said he was sorting through the pile on his knees when a fist knocked him on his back.
'I was knocked out'
"He kept hitting the side of my face, back of my head and temples for about 10-15 more seconds that I can remember," Handman wrote. "After that I was knocked out. Next thing I remember is tasting blood and 2 pvts. (privates) standing over me calling my name."
He was treated for a concussion and bruising to the left side of his face at the Army hospital on post and moved to a different platoon after he returned to training the next day, said Fort Benning spokeswoman Monica Manganaro.
Manganaro said two drill sergeants are being reprimanded for religious discrimination toward Handman after he started basic training Aug. 29.
She said one drill sergeant had called Handman "Juden" — the German word for Jews. Another demanded he remove his yarmulke, which Handman wore with his uniform, while eating in a dining hall.
Investigators have interviewed a fellow trainee suspected of attacking Handman, but no charges have been filed. Mangaro said investigators believe the attack "was not due to religious prejudice" but would not explain why.
Letter confirms discrimination
In a Sept. 26 letter to Chambliss, Army Deputy Chief of Staff Samuel Rollinson said investigators found two drill sergeants had violated Army regulations prohibiting religious discrimination.
"While the actions of the NCOs (noncommissioned officers) were not meant to be malicious, and were done out of ignorance for regulations and cultural awareness, this does not excuse their conduct," Rollinson said in his letter.
Handman's father, Jonathan Handman, said his son decided to join the Army when he found himself lost and seeking direction after two years in college. Now Jonathan Handman said his son is afraid of being attacked again and he regrets encouraging him to enlist.
"When my son told me he wanted to join the Army, I supported him 100 percent," he said. "Now I feel like the one that fed him to the wolves."
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