Bergdahl's Release Upsets Soldiers Who Saw Him as a Deserter

Soldiers are coming out against the decision for another reason -- they say Bergdahl put their lives at risk when he abandoned his duties, and don't think he receives a hero's welcome home. 

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Over the weekend, President Barack Obama announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, the only American P.O.W. from the Afghanistan war, had been released. Since then, many critics have questioned the decision to swap five top Taliban operatives, held in Guantanamo Bay, for the soldier, saying that swap will ultimately put more lives in danger. Now, many American soldiers are coming out against the decision for another reason. They say Bergdahl put their lives at risk when he abandoned his duties, and don't think he receives a hero's welcome home.

Bergdahl was reportedly seized by the Taliban in 2009, after he left the camp where he was stationed, without authorization. Bergdahl had reportedly become disillusioned with the war effort and wanted out. He was almost immediately captured and held in Pakistan, which According to the Washington Post prompted a dangerous and deadly search:

At the time, an entire U.S. military division and thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers devoted weeks to searching for him, and some soldiers resented risking their lives for someone they considered a deserter... One Afghan special operations commander in eastern Afghanistan remembers being dispatched. “Along with the American Special Forces, we set up checkpoints everywhere. For 14 days we were outside of our base trying to find him."

Former combat medic Javier Ortiz told the Post that he had also felt disillusioned with the war but would not have abandoned his fellow soldiers. “I had a responsibility while I was there to the guys I was with, and that’s why this hits the hardest," adding "regardless of what you learned while being there, we still have a responsibility to the men to our left and right. It’s terrible, what he did.” Some soldiers said they think Bergdahl should be tried for desertion or going absent without leave (AWOL), both serious military crimes. The U.S. government, however, doesn't intend on pursuing charges. One senior defense official told the Post, “Five years is enough."

CNN, noting that six soldiers were killed during searches for Bergdahl, also spoke with soldiers upset by the news:

"I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on," said former Sgt. 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."

Whoever runs the anonymous Twitter handle @CodyFNfootball identifies himself as a soldier, and took issue with Bergdahl's release in a series of tweets posted over the weekend. He also offered a detailed account of the day Bergdahl went missing, noting that the decision to leave seemed premeditated and that Bergdahl had misrepresented the events: 

He also suggested that Bergdahl may have worked with the Taliban during his captivity, to some extent:

Facebook groups denouncing Bergdahl have drawn thousands of supporters. One, called Bowe Bergdahl Is a Traitor, has more than 13,000 "likes," and another group (Bowe Bergdahl Is NOT a Hero!) has more than 5,000 members and links to a petition demanding his punishment.

According to the Telegraph, the narrative surrounding Bergdahl shouldn't be so black and white:

He deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 full of idealistic conviction that he and his comrades could push back the Taliban and improve life in the long-subjugated country. But hopefulness soon gave way to despair after his unit began to take casualties and he saw how U.S. troops treated the Afghans they were supposed to be saving.

Maybe that's something worth talking about, as well, and not just when discussing the singular case of Bergdahl.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.