By Matthew Wadler:
No man left behind. This is not just some bad plot line for an overly macho B grade movie. This is something that we in the Army take as a code. So much so that it is the fourth line in our Ethos, “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Throughout our history of a nation we have seen example after example of this. None is greater than the story of SPC Giunta (it is an amazing story which I recommend you read.) On 25 October 2007, SPC Giunta was on patrol when his unit came under fire. He charged through a hail of fire to provide medical aid for his squad leader who was injured. Then he and other members of his team low crawled to two other injured soldiers and rendered aid while fighting off the enemy. It was at this point where Giunta noticed that he was missing a member of the squad. By himself, Giunta ran over the top of a hill where he saw two insurgents dragging away his friend. Charging down the hill after them he killed one of the insurgents and wounded the other. He attempted to give aide to his friend, but his wounds were too severe. However, that man died in the arms of a brother. He knew that, even though mortally wounded, he would be protected and cared for. He knew his family would be able to have the closure that is only possible by having him returned to them. This is what honor looks like. This is why I believe so strongly in the St. Crispin’s Day Speech from Henry V by William Shakespeare,
“But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
That is the warrior spirit which is supposed to guide us in the military. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. PFC Bowe Bergdahl (his rank at the time of his desertion) is a prime example of this. In preparing for this article I did as much research as I could surrounding PFC Bowe Bergdahl and why he left his post in Afghanistan. I looked at his unit, comrades, and as many other variables as I could. Before I delve into his dishonor, I want to give as much of the background as I can.
Bergdahl left his post on 30 June 2009 freely. He stated that he did so to cause a panic and discord in his organization. Bergdahl was supposedly doing this to bring light to his belief that there was a lack of leadership competence in his chain of command. He had been planning this for some time so it was not a rash decision, but one made with purposeful design.
Rolling Stones Magazine published an email that Bergdahl had sent to his family days before leaving his post. In it he had several comments that need to be mentioned. “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.” He also stated, “The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.” Throughout the email, he speaks with disdain towards the military and his leadership. He concludes his email stating, “The horror that is America is disgusting.”
Interestingly much of the disgust he has towards the military and his unit goes contrary to what Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the officer who performed the investigation on the disappearance, stated about Bergdahl. The general stated that Bergdahl was frustrated that he was spending most of his time conducting guard duty and other seemingly menial jobs instead of kicking in doors looking for the Taliban directly.
In an interview Bergdahl stated he was motivated due to leadership failures. “All I was seeing was basically, leadership failure to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me, were, literally, from what I could see, in danger of something seriously going wrong and somebody being killed.” He also told General Dahl that one of his command sergeant majors (CSM) was a thief and rapist and that soldiers from his unit had desecrated Afghan gravestones. The CSM in question had an impeccable record and no evidence could be found to substantiate his other claims. Per his statements, he was going to leave his post then walk approximately 19 miles over the course of a couple days to another post and request to speak to a general officer. He figured, “the Soldier shows up … People recognize him. They ID him. They go, ‘What did you just do?’ And that Soldier says, ‘I am not saying anything about what I did until I am talking to a general.'”
In accordance with his statements, he took off his gear and left the post. He apparently quickly realized that this was a mistake stating, “”Twenty minutes out, I’m going ‘good grief. I’m way over my head’… suddenly it really starts to sink in. I really did something bad. Well, not bad, but I really did something serious.” Shockingly however, even realizing the depth of his actions he still continued on with his imprudent and absurd plan. He was captured within a day by six or seven armed Taliban.
After his capture his unit began 45 days of exhaustive searching for Bergdahl. During this time-period the unit lost 6 Soldiers. While there is no direct evidence that these six were killed due to Bergdahl’s desertion, many members of the platoon stated that every mission from the time he left had a component in it of finding Bergdahl. Additionally, the Soldiers stated they were in a constant state of exhaustion from the continuous searches.
While in that case it may not be able to conclusively state that Soldiers died due to searching for the apostate, the same is not true for two others of the US military who sustained injuries. On 9 July 2009 during a search mission for Bergdahl the element came under attack. During this engagement SFC Mark Allen was shot in the head and to this day remains in a wheel chair unable to communicate. SPC Jonathan Morita was also injured with broken bones after a rocket propelled grenade was shot at him.
On 31 May 2014 President Obama told the American public that Bergdahl would be released, but that the price for his release would be five captured and dangerous prisoners from Guantanamo Bay; to include the interior minister for the Taliban, Chief of Staff for the Taliban, the Taliban’s Intelligence Minister, and Chief of Communications for the Taliban (NBC news reported that at least one of the prisoners has already tried to reconnect with the Taliban since their release).
His suffering up to this point is a minor pittance for the hell he created for others and has nothing to do with being accountable for his premeditated and calculated actions.
Some, including the President have called Bergdahl a hero. I cannot think of a word that contains enough disdain for me to liken him to. I have the names of some heroes that you have likely never heard of however: SSG Clayton Bowen, PFC Morris Walker, SSG Kurt Curtiss, 2LT Darryn Andrews, PFC Matthew Michael Martinek, SSG Michael Murphrey. These are the six heroes who died while conducting missions looking for Bergdahl. These men left behind families…correction, Bergdahl’s cowardice stole these men’s lives away from their families. Worse yet are the six children who are left behind with the knowledge that their parents are dead while Bergdahl receives accolades from the President. I would also be remiss if I failed to once again mention SFC Allen, who also has two children that sit by his side unable to even communicate with their father.
Far from a hero, Bergdahl is the worst type of coward. He claims that he left his post to bring attention to his list of complaints that have all been debunked. In actuality I believe that he embodies all the worst traits that personify the millennial generation. Once he realized that being a Soldier in combat meant hours of guard duty and other menial tasks, he could not rationalize the reality of it. His belief that he was entitled to a life of excitement and glory meant more than the fact that others were counting on him for their very survival. This break from reality is the only way he could possibly believe his idea of running away from his problems and causing a panic would accomplish anything positive.
Bergdahl’s cowardice stole these men’s lives away from their families. Worse yet are the six children who are left behind with the knowledge that their parents are dead while Bergdahl receives accolades from the President…
Even if Bergdahl was worried about his chain of command and wanted to altruistically sacrifice himself for their good he could have used the command’s open door policy. Every commander in a Soldiers chain of command, to include the general officers, are required to have an open-door policy. Every private who has been in the Army for more than a month has also been briefed on this fact and on the fact that, without exception, no one is allowed to deny you your right to speak to that commander. Again though, if he would have done it this way, by following the rules, then no one would have given him his much-needed validation of exceptionalism and bravery.
As for his capture, I am an absolute believer in consequences. Every action or inaction has consequences of some sort. He chose to leave his post and he chose to desert his brothers in arms. Therefor his consequence was 5 years of tortuous captivity. Would I wish this upon him; not at all. I would never wish that ordeal on any service member. With that being said, I feel no pity or compassion for him either. Six men died while conducting search operations for him leaving 6 children without a father to walk their daughters down the aisle on their wedding day or coach their sons’ teams. While I may not wish for karma to have struck at him, I refuse to waste any emotions on his state of affairs, they are too involved in the misery that he created with the deaths of other men who wear that badge called hero.
Bergdahl deserves to be in jail. Not out of my rage towards him, which is undeniable, but out of the need for justice. He committed crimes and those crimes must be adjudicated. His suffering up to this point is a minor pittance for the hell he created for others and has nothing to do with being accountable for his premeditated and calculated actions.
John F. Kennedy once said, “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.” In this case PFC Bergdahl both surrendered and submitted. He brought dishonor upon a military revered throughout the world as noble and righteous. More importantly he turned his back on his brothers and brought ruin to their homes. There can be no forgiveness or reparation.
The question therefore turns to the act of having him pardoned by the President for his crimes. I cannot bring myself to believe that President Obama would do such a thing. As the Commander in Chief he is ultimately responsible for the life of every Soldier under his command. Every death that occurs in combat, be it accident, fratricide, or enemy engagement falls upon his shoulders. He alone is responsible for sending the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen into the throes of combat, be the cause just or frivolous. All members of the military are his pawn in the ultimate game of strategy. There can be no higher sense of duty than the trust that we, the military, bestow upon our president. We have faith that the struggle we undertake is for the betterment of mankind and that the president would only forfeit our lives for a noble endeavor worthy of the ultimate sacrifice. For him to pardon such a traitor without a trial would be the supreme betrayal of those that gave their lives based upon his directives. He owes those that serve under him and the families whose lives have been destroyed the closure that can only come by seeing Bergdahl brought to justice. President Obama said himself, “”Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay, but we can honor their sacrifice.” Mr. President, this is one statement you cannot retract. Do the right thing for those you have taken everything from.
Matthew Wadler is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran. Wadler served admirably for twenty years before retiring. His service included time as a paratrooper and two deployments to Afghanistan.