Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero

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U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

(CNN) — The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him — veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.

“I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sergeant Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”

Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A reporter asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted — and, if so, whether he would be punished. Hagel didn’t answer directly. “Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family,” he said. “Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”

Following his release from five years of captivity in Afghanistan on Saturday, Bergdahl was transferred to a military hospital in Germany.

A senior Defense official said Bergdahl’s “reintegration process” will include “time for him to tell his story, decompress, and to reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences.”

Said Bergdahl’s former squad leader, Greg Leatherman: “I’m pleased to see him returned safely. From experience I hope that he receives adequate reintegration counseling. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as healthcare professionals deem him fit to endure one.”

Another senior Defense official said Bergdahl will not likely face any punishment. “Five years is enough,” he told CNN on condition of anonymity.

Questions surround the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance. Conflicting details have since emerged about how the militants managed to capture Bergdahl. Published accounts have varied widely, from claims he walked off the post to another that he was grabbed from a latrine.

According to first-hand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera, and a diary.

At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika Provice in the days and weeks following his disappearance.

Many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops — from the seven or so who knew him best in his squad, to the larger group that comprised the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — told CNN that they signed nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him. Some were willing to dismiss that document in hopes that the truth would come out about a soldier who they now fear is being hailed as a hero, while the men who lost their lives looking for him are ignored.

Many are flocking to social media, such as the Facebook page “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a hero,” where they share stories detailing their resentment. A number of comments on his battalion’s Facebook page prompted the moderator to ask for more respect to be shown.

“I challenge any one of you who label him a traitor to spend 5 years in captivity with the Taliban or Haqqani, then come back and accuse him again. Whatever his intent when he walked away or was captured, he has more than paid for it.”

Emails reported by the late Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone in 2012 reveal what Bergdahl’s fellow infantrymen learned within days of his disappearance: he told people that he no longer supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

“The future is too good to waste on lies,” Bowe wrote to his parents. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

Bergdahl wrote to them, “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.”

CNN has not independently verified the authenticity of the emails.

A former member of Bergdahl’s squad who has yet to identify his last name publicly but goes by “Cody” tweeted this weekend that before he disappeared, Bergdahl once told him, “If deployment is lame, I’m going to get lost in the Mountains and make my way to China.”

Leatherman told CNN that Bergdahl “always looked at the mountains in the distance and talked of ‘seeing what’s on the other side.'”

Cody noted in his Twitter recollections a story that others from Blackfoot Company relay. While soldiers were searching for Bergdahl, a platoon “came upon some children, they asked him have they seen an American. The children said ‘yes, he was crawling on his belly through weeds and acting funny a while ago,'” according to Cody.

The platoon went to the village where the children said the American had gone. “Villagers said an American did come through the area and was wanting water and someone who spoke English,” Cody shared. “Wanted to meet with Taliban.”

Former Pfc. Jose Baggett, 27, of Chicago, was also in Blackfoot Company, and said he was close to two men “killed because of his (Bergdahl’s) actions.”

“He walked off,” Baggett told CNN. “He left his guard post. Nobody knows if he defected or he’s a traitor or he was kidnapped. What I do know is he was there to protect us and instead he decided to defer from America and go and do his own thing. I don’t know why he decided to do that, but we spend so much of our resources and some of those resources were soldiers’ lives.”

Cody is among the soldiers who noted in uptick in attacks following Bergdahl’s disappearance.

“A huge thing in country is not building patterns. Well when you are looking for a person everyday that creates a pattern. While searching for him, ambushes and IEDs picked up tremendously. Enemy knew we would be coming. IEDs started being placed more effectively in the coming weeks. Ambushes were more calculated, cover and concealment was used,” Cody tweeted.

On August 18, 2009, Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen and Pfc. Morris Walker were killed by an IED in the search for Bergdahl. Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss was killed on August 26; 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews and Pfc. Matthew Michael Martinek were killed after being attacked in Yahya Khail District on September 4; Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey was killed September 5 by an IED at the Forward Operating Base, Sharana.

Moreover, other operations were put on hold while the search for Bergdahl was made a top priority, according to officers who served in Afghanistan in that time. Manpower and assets — such as scarce surveillance drones and helicopters — were redirected to the hunt. The lack of assets is one reason the closure of a dangerous combat outpost, COP Keating, was delayed. Eight soldiers were killed at COP Keating before it was ultimately closed.

One soldier with the 509th Regiment, a sister unit of the 501st, told CNN that after Bergdahl disappeared, the U.S. Army essentially was told to lock down the entire province of Paktika. He described sitting in the middle of a field with his platoon, vulnerable, with capabilities and personnel mismanaged throughout the region. Different platoons ran out of water, food, and ammunition.

Two mortarmen — Pvt. Aaron Fairbairn and Pfc. Justin Casillas — were killed in a July 4, 2009, attack.

“It was unbelievable,” the soldier said. “All because of the selfish act of one person. The amount of animosity (toward him) is nothing like you’ve ever seen before.”

That Bergdahl was freed in an exchange for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay is a further source of consternation.

“I don’t understand why we’re trading prisoners at Gitmo for somebody who deserted during a time of war, which is an act of treason,” Vierkant said.

9 comments

  • David Farrar

    Bowe Bergdahl’s release was pure politics as usual for Obama. Bergdanl’s parents are activists, trying to close Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Bowe Bergdahl fellow soldiers have no reason to lie. As far as they are concerned, Bowe’s desertion was simply a part of Bowe’s parents plan. The hard part was in convincing the Taliban. The problem here is, their little plan cost the lives of six other Americans lost in searching for Bowe’s whereabouts when he walked off his post, leaving his weapon behind. The man ought to be court marshaled and hung. His parents ought to be tried for manslaughter and sentenced to long prison terms, and Obama out to be impeached for treason.

    ex animo
    davidfarrar

  • disgruntled goat

    this is just going to turn into yet another scandal for the obama administration. i don’t think the mainstream media can sweep this story under the rug and cnn covering it already is a pretty ominous sign for obama.

    he went awol, cost 6 soldiers their lives, then obama swaps 5 high ranking taliban to get him back all for a PR stunt. this could be his biggest blunder yet.

  • cynic

    This will disappear from the news cycle within days. We won’t hear about this guy again until he either appears at campaign events for Dems or until he himself runs for political office in the next couple years. Go ahead and bookmark this page, this will happen.

    • dancing in the ruins

      Wow. You are so wrong. This desertion part of the story is only just now gaining steam everywhere. It’s going to be a huge deal.

      • cynic

        Well, I hope you’re right of course. But my username IS cynic so I tend to lean that way. In a different time, this would indeed have been a massive, impeachable, maybe even criminal scandal. But in Obama’s Amerika, who will hold him accountable? Congress has been completely neutered. Is he going to make Hagel, Rice, or Holder resign? Would it even matter since it wouldn’t change the fact that 5 heavy hitters will soon be roaming free? Who will stop terrorists from ramping up their kidnappings now that they know the US will negotiate (like Europe has for years)? Back in another era, Obama’s actions would have been catastrophic for his career. Now though, he gets to do a victory lap with a POW.

      • cynic

        …AND don’t forget that all of Obama’s cronies and loyal lib voters are also disillusioned by “Bush’s War” and will probably sympathize if they do find he was a deserter. After all, as his dad told him to, he followed his conscience.

  • Jake

    Bergdahl most certainly deserted and should be prosecuted; however I believe we should be negotiating with the Taliban. The Taliban is not going anywhere and our attempts to disband and destroy them only strengthened them. They are simply illiterate fundamentalist who are told what the Quarn says from men upper class men like Bin Laden. I actually agree with Obama on negotiations with Taliban. This will be a major scandal no doubt.

  • dianne

    Shame on him and his parents if even an ounce of truth the blood of many arw on their hands and shame on obama.too!!!

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