What country in the world has produced a military with an ethic that even under the most extreme circumstances is, “leave no man behind”? What country would deploy intelligence resources and put lives at risk to find a deserter? What country would trade 5 captured threats to its national security for the return of that one Army deserter?
America is the only country that would do what it did to get Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl back and after getting him back, honor his citizenship like America has.
On the night of June 30, 2009, Bowe Bergdahl leaving his weapon and combat gear behind, walked away from his Alaska-based infantry regiment in Paktika province near the Pakistani border five months after being deployed to Afghanistan. Before leaving Bergdahl wrote e-mails to his parents saying he had become disillusioned with the war effort, that he was bothered by the treatment of Afghans by American soldiers, and that he was ashamed to be an American.
There are differing accounts about when, how and where exactly he was taken hostage. By July 18, 2009, the Taliban released a video showing Bergdahl captured appearing downcast and frightened. A Pentagon statement issued the following day confirmed that Bergdahl had been declared “missing/whereabouts unknown” on July 1 and that his status had been changed to “missing/captured” on July 3.
Even though some at the time suspected desertion, the Army initiated a DUSTWUN search to find him. Significant resources were deployed in an effort to find Bergdahl. Two Pashto-language leaflets were distributed by the U.S. military, one showed a smiling GI shaking hands with Afghan children and a caption calling him a guest in Afghanistan. The other showed a door being broken down and threatened that those holding Bergdahl would be hunted down. During missions to find Bergdahl, several U.S. troops were wounded, including one who lost the ability to walk, talk or care for himself after being shot through the head; as of November 2017, that soldier remained alive but with minimal consciousness.
Bergdahl was held captive for 5 years by the Taliban. During that time he was repeatedly tortured and beaten, he says sometimes he was left locked in a cage in total darkness for days with no food or water, punishment for trying to escape. Life for him was a living hell until he was released in March 2015 in exchange for 5 Taliban prisoners.
Most other countries and their militaries would join American critics of Bergdahl and say good riddance DESERTER/TRAITOR, you’re getting what you deserve. Not only did the Army launch an all-out rescue mission for Bergdahl, but America went the extra mile of trading 5 battle-hardened national security risk soldiers, most likely to end up back on the battlefield, for his release. Our American military establishment signed off on this prisoner exchange knowing that Bergdahl was a likely deserter.
This greatness is embodied in the sentiments of 2 of our finest representatives from the great 1% who keep us safe and protect our democracy:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said “The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover any U.S. service member in enemy captivity” and that the military will investigate how Bergdahl was captured. “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.”
US Army Infantry Officer Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served in the same battalion as Bergdahl writing in the The Daily Beast states plainly: “Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down. I believe that Bergdahl also deserves sympathy, but he has much to answer for, some of which is far more damning than simply having walked off. Many have suffered because of his actions: his fellow soldiers, their families, his family, the Afghan military, the unaffiliated Afghan civilians in Paktika, and none of this suffering was inevitable. None of it had to happen. Therefore, while I’m pleased that he’s safe, I believe there is an explanation due.”
The military judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, had wide discretion in determining a sentence for Bergdahl. He appears to have done something that President Trump did not do before he called for Bergdahl’s execution. Col. Nance apparently took into account that Bergdahl was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and a total of ten overseas service bars, for the five years he spent in the combat zone in Afghanistan. He also was awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and the Overseas Service Ribbon. These along with the 5 years of brutal imprisonment by the Taliban Bergdahl endured were probably mitigating factors in the eyes of the judge.
No doubt about it Bowe Bergdahl is no hero! His sentence of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of $1,000 in pay per month, a reduction in rank from sergeant to private, and loss of all Veteran Administration health benefits is richly deserved. His abandonment of his fellow soldiers on the battlefield was a selfish and cowardly act that deserves no sympathy.
But only in the greatest nation on earth, America, will a country and its military say to a deserting soldier, regardless of your cowardly behavior we will do everything possible to bring you back home to America, the place you have forsaken. The place where your citizenship will be honored and treated with respect despite your disrespect of America. This happened for Bowe Bergdahl because he like all of us has one of the greatest blessings on earth, AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective into current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.
Originally published at isaacnewtonfarris.com on November 5, 2017.