I have a lot of veteran friends, obviously. But, I also have a lot of non-vet friends who may not fully understand what’s going on with Bergdahl, or not get why so many vets are ambivalent about his fate.
In 2009, Bergdahl was an odd duck, a leg infantryman (not qualified to jump out of planes) in an airborne unit. He was also apparently a bit of a philosopher, and seems to have become somewhat conflicted about the actions of the USA in Afghanistan. This is not uncommon among both vets and non-vets. It’s certainly true that we made some bone-headed moves, as well as smart moves. The balance is not something I’m going to get into, but it’s definitely an important backdrop for Bergdahl’s story.
He left his forward operating base (tiny outpost in dangerous territory) one morning, and was not seen again by the public except on video until this week.
So…the discussion centers around what the hell this low-ranking soldier was doing leaving a safe-ish zone in the middle of a war zone, while leaving his buddies to take up his slack. It becomes increasingly clear that Bergdahl was, at best, a confused young man. He apparently thought life should be more like the movies, and he was the hero. He may have thought he could change the Taliban into warm fuzzies, he may have just felt guilty about the small part he played in destroying pieces of Afghanistan. There’s no way to be certain at this time, but his motivations are almost beside the point.
The biggest point to veterans is this – he left his buddies in the lurch. He was part of a team. That team needed to trust *every* member to do his duty, and be where he was supposed to be, doing the job he was supposed to do. Any person missing not only reduces the effectiveness of the group by his absence, but reduces the effectiveness because they are duty-bound to try to find his ass. Trust and honor are words that carry a lot of weight in the military. These guys all needed to know that the guy sitting next to them would be capable and ready to defend each other without fail. One guy going missing isn’t just one guy – he’s a wound that is hard to heal in the body of that unit. The unit wants to be complete and whole, and will work to find missing or fallen members.
And this is what they did. His platoon (group of 30-50 men with guns) searched for him, taking away from their mission of defending a small part of Afghanistan. At least six people died during searches for Bergdahl. Some people say that the continuing low-level mission of “find Bergdahl” may have cost many other lives, but the military is not confirming that publicly.
Regardless of his motivations, and regardless of his causing disruption to his unit, there is also the constant reminder over the last five years that we had one prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and we wanted him back. We wanted him back because “No Man Left Behind” is a saying that soldiers believe in. He may have been a soup sandwich, but he was an American soldier, and damned if we didn’t want him returned to us. Several of my Army comrades have been posting “Bowe Tuesday” reminders for years, reinforcing that PFC Bergdahl was wanted back in the fold. Later, that became SGT Bergdahl, as without a determination of desertion, he was entitled to automatic promotion while a prisoner.
Now, he’s back, and the cost may be high (how valuable the prisoners we’re giving up are is a debate for someone with much more knowledge than I have about the subject), but he’s back. I assume there will be an investigation into his departure, but it will probably be very low-key and out of the public eye. I do know that he’s unlikely to ever serve another day as a normal soldier. If he’s still wearing a uniform in a year, I’ll be very surprised. I’m very curious whether his views on the relative value of American vs. Taliban culture and justice have changed.
So, welcome home, SGT Bergdahl. You’ve got some explaining to do.
Also published on Medium.