So after five years Bowe Bergdahl is heading home. But there is hardly unrestrained joy and relief outside of the small community of Hailey, Idaho, where Bergdahl grew up. In fact, Hailey decided to cancel its planned celebration in the face of much doubt over his circumstances and the deal to exchange five Taliban military leaders for his freedom.
For the time being, you will not hear me calling him by service branch and rank. From what I have read, he doesn’t deserve it. I do not take this position lightly, even as one who never wore the uniform.
Normally, I stay silent in cases where an investigation is clearly warranted. It’s not for me to judge. But this situation truly makes my skin crawl.
By all reports, accepted as truth by those who served with Bergdahl, he willingly; knowingly; and worse of all recklessly relative to the safety of his fellow troopers, walked off his duty station to “start a new life“.
Bergstrom did not simply walk out the gate or go under the perimeter wire; he may have even hid in a contractor’s vehicle to secretly exit his outpost. He went out of his way to send many personal belongings home before abandoning his unit.
Bergdahl’s desertion is unforgivable for no other reason than the danger in which it put other troops once he was listed as missing. When that happens, the U.S. military – whether you are on land, in water, or missing from the air – is going to try to find and recover you. They will not leave a man behind if at all possible.
That puts a number of military personnel in an order of magnitude several times greater than your personal worth in harm’s way; exposing themselves to all the dangers of that theatre of operations; going into dangerous and volatile situations they would normally avoid just to find you. Bergdahl’s actions in this regard were unconscionable.
Certainly Bergdahl deserves his day in court, privileged by the assumption of innocence as provided by those very principles he decided to leave behind when he so clandestinely worked to melt into the Afghan countryside. Hopefully the truth will come out, though I doubt he will receive more than a dishonorable discharge if found guilty.
Of course, that assumes he doesn’t receive a White House pardon.
The troops who served with him and who lived closest to him before he deserted his post are very free in their feelings towards Bergdahl. They are – to say the least – angry at his selfishness and furious at the losses incurred on his behalf. They knew him to be a loner, though no sin in itself. They knew he didn’t want to be there. They saw him gaze into the mountains near their base, wondering if he could reach China by heading in that direction.
They are the ones to whom we should be listening. They are the ones who knew him best. They could tell whether he was with them in duty or looking for a way to salve his disillusionment with his chosen profession.
When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went to Afghanistan and announced the release and repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl, his announcement was met with stony silence from the American troopers in attendance. Don’t buy the story line of young American troopers showing “reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief”. That never seems to be a problem with emotion when the Commander-in-Chief shows up.
Their lack of reaction and none-so-fond memories of Bergdahl’s fellow unit members are good enough for me.