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The black mark: Bowe Bergdahl's squadmates speak out on his desertion

Bowe Bergdahl smirks in a video released by the Haqqani Network after he deserted.
Bowe Bergdahl smirks in a video released by the Haqqani Network after he deserted.
Photo by: Haqqani Network Stillframe

He wore a US Army uniform stripped of all signs of rank and insignia. Fellow soldiers led him to a six-by-six inch post near a high masonry wall, selected for its towering height’s ability to block outside eyes from watching what was about to take place. Using web belts, the soldiers strapped him to the post. One hooked onto a spike on the back of the post and was rigged around his chest, under both arms. Another was tightened around his knees, and a third was fastened around his ankles. With the addition of straps, he could not move and would not slump over, no matter what was to come. They slipped a black hood over his head. And they moved away.

There were a dozen soldiers from the 109th Regiment lined up across from him armed with M-1 rifles, each loaded with a single round, one of which was a blank. And when the commanding officer called, “Fire!”, eleven rounds went off with a thunderous clap. Four were fatal shots, and all the rounds struck him in the neck and left-chest area around his heart. When the physician present declared the man not yet dead, the soldiers began to reload, but he took his last breath before they finished. Among his last words to the soldiers strapping him to the post were these: “They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.” His bitter belief was, however, false. Private Eddie Slovik was put to death by a firing squad made up of his fellow soldiers on January 31, 1945, for the crime of desertion.

Let’s get something out of the way immediately. Simple fact: on June 30, 2009, then-PFC Bowe Bergdahl went AWOL from Blackfoot Company, 1-501 Infantry (Airborne), 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. His absence was planned in advance. He did not straggle behind during a patrol as he so blatantly lied during a Haqqani-released video, nor did he get drunk and stagger off FOB Sharana in Afghanistan. And while certain details will most likely never be made public – and don’t even get this writer started on the public’s over-indulged demand for information best left classified – there are details available, thanks to honorable and angry squadmates of Bergdahl’s. And that is why we are here today, to listen to the men who really know what went on that day, five long years ago. In order to offer what little protection possible, especially in light of the gag orders being ordered by the military brass, names will not be used. Although you can easily find the names of some of them through other media outlets, their names will not be associated with direct quotes today.

The first account comes from one of the soldiers who took part in the initial search for Bergdahl. His opening remark regards the death of his men during the search, losses made all the more poignant due to their cause: a search for a willful deserter. Credentials have been checked. These men are who they claim to be. And their stories ignite the blood.

Bergdahl already had an established reputation as an unkempt, unpleasant PFC. He referred to the war effort as “lame,” and did not seem to care who knew. Immediately prior to his desertion, because let’s call a spade a spade, please, he proved his worth – or lack thereof - once again and was punished for it. According to the first source, Bergdahl’s platoon was assigned to provide security out of FOB Sharana as well as in various locations around Paktika. In the weeks prior to Bergdahl going AWOL, a British reporter by the name of Sean Smith, with The Guardian, was embedded with his platoon. As a result, photographs and an article came out showing Bergdahl and other soldiers “conducting operations in an unprofessional manner.” One picture showed Bergdahl, on guard duty – and asleep in his armored vehicle. Senior officers were not happy with the situation at OP MEST, an outpost including twenty-eight other soldiers, and disciplined every soldier involved with extra guard duty assignments. For Bergdahl, it was apparently taken personally, and the punishment seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back (ba dum bump).

“Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war; only patriots and traitors.” Stephen Douglas

He did not go quietly into that dark night, though. Bergdahl shipped some of his things back to his parents, including his computer, and also sent them an explanatory email. The contents of the email came to light slowly, and include such gems as: “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.” He also referred to his battalion commander as a “conceited old fool” and called his squadmates, and others, “an army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies.” And if that was not enough, Bergdahl also made the ultimate proclamation by telling his parents, “I am ashamed to even be [A]merican.”

And apparently he was. In the days, weeks, and months leading up to his desertion, Bergdahl did little to bond with his fellow soldiers. During his free time he simply retreated to his tent, studying Pashto and Arabic with the help of Rosetta Stone programs. Days prior to going AWOL, he approached another soldier at OP MEST, asking whether the man believed he could make it to China or India on foot. At the time, the soldier believed Bergdahl was joking, but it soon became clear Bergdahl was not only serious but apparently despised the men he served with.

Another soldier gave his account of the moments leading up to his realization Bergdahl was truly gone. A guard approached him, saying he could not find Bergdahl, who had recently ended his own shift on guard duty. “What do you mean you can’t find him?”, he immediately questioned. Two soldiers were sent to make sure Bergdahl was not sleeping between a pair of trucks at the top of OP MEST and another went to see if he was with the Afghans, drinking tea. He was not. In his tent, his sleeping bag was “neatly folded,” and there sat his gear in a neat pile. He left behind his rifle, NVG’s, and other sensitive gear, so at least we can say he did not walk off with vital Army property. Instead he took a backpack, two knives, a compass, and his personal diary, and when the soldier asked the men to check to see what was missing, “one of the younger soldiers said that there were four or five bottles of water missing from a crate he had.” The men at OP MEST knew immediately what had happened, he said, “it was chaos.” And to make the situation absolutely clear, he added, “I knew right away he had not been captured. He had walked off.” To further back his belief Bergdahl had gone AWOL, an Afghan boy told the men he had seen an American soldier walk off through the fields earlier that morning. It was 9am local time when they realized Bergdahl was a deserter, and the search began without delay.

“A brave man is a man who dares to look the Devil in the face and tell him he is a Devil.” James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States

Meanwhile, at nearby FOB Salerno in Khost, Afghanistan, assistance in the search was about to be mustered. A soldier assigned to 1st Platoon of Blackfoot Company came forward with his account. The night before, the soldier had been up as part of an unrelated raid, and it was afternoon when he was shaken awake. He was told there was a DUSTWUN (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown) and ordered to pack for a three-hour assault. “Sometime after dark we boarded CH-47’s to assault an objective thought to contain Bergdahl. We never made it to the landing zone, as the helicopters took very heavy fire on approach to the object and had to divert.” This was to be the first of many life-threatening risks undertaken in the search for a deserter, but not the most costly. Not yet.

An early and little-known error made in the search occurred when the CH-47 dropped the FTF (Focused Targeting Force) at OP MEST after the near-disaster at the first objective. Being dropped without information, the 1st Platoon, Blackfoot Company, soldier and his men immediately spotted the lights from the RG-31 and Maxpro MRAPs but did not know right away what they were seeing other than unidentified vehicle lights. Screaming “Vehicles!” the FTF prepared to engage using their LAW and SMAW-D rockets. Fortunately, they realized they were seeing friendlies, and de-escalated.

The ensuing search, he said, covered “18 to 22 kilometers a day on foot, clearing house to house, room to room,” all in the hopes of finding Bergdahl. “We even went as far as rappelling down wells and crawling through tunnels,” he continued, and said the procedure for re-capturing Bergdahl was also not standard. Bergdahl leaving OP MEST with two knives was no mistake; it was well known he was skilled with knives and trained to not only throw them but fight with them in hand-to-hand combat. “All we knew,” he said, “was he left on his own, he caused us lots of hardship, and if we entered a room and saw him, we would put him down because he could attack us.”

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Arthur Ashe

On the Fourth of July, our nation’s Independence Day, the terrorist factions took advantage of the massive search for Bergdahl and attacked numerous OP’s simultaneously. In the fighting to follow, it was widely known the cause was a deserter, which did nothing to improve morale after what came next. At COP (Combat Outpost) Zerok, the men were nearly overrun, and among the many injuries that day came the first deaths related to the search for Bergdahl. During the attack, the FTF source said, “two Apache gunships on that location went Winchester,” which means they had used all their ordinance and ammunition. Even so, he said, “they would not abandon the soldiers still fighting, so they resorted to low-level unarmed passes to distract the enemy.” Despite the bravery of the Apache pilots and the men on the ground at COP Zerok, PFC’s Justin Castillas and Aaron Fairbairn were killed in the onslaught, which also began the start of the higher-ups lying to families about how their husbands and sons died.

Yet another source comes in the form of the co-pilot of an F-15 aircraft involved in the early days of the search. According to him, missions were being run nonstop for forty-eight hours with 52 or more planes doing constant runs. Whatever was available was being used, from A-10’s to Apache helicopters to German Tornadoes. “The operation to try and find Bergdahl must have cost millions,” the co-pilot stated firmly, a fact not hard to prove. Worse than the monetary cost at the time was the inability of involved forces to help those under fire on the ground who needed them, he said, “we couldn’t support Navy SEALs and other people.” And yet, the millions of taxpayer dollars spent searching for a thankless deserter are nothing compared to the cost paid in military blood.

Days later, the 1st Platoon, Blackfoot Company, soldier who was part of the initial FTF was still on the ground with the sole purpose of locating Bergdahl. It was during a daylight raid on tents thought to be housing Bergdahl more loss of life occurred. The FTF came under heavy fire from small arms as well as RPG’s, and the source of the attack was a Taliban shadow governor and his bodyguards. “Multiple people died that day. All of this happened because Bergdahl got tired of playing soldier.” He spent the entirety of the remainder of his deployment searching for Bergdahl, and although he says he is unable to share the names of all the men who died in relation to the search, he does include PFC Matthew Martinek and 2LT Darryn Andrews. You can imagine the pain and righteous anger in his voice as he concludes, “I have no doubt these great men would be alive today if Bergdahl did not leave.”

The mainstream media has listed only six men as casualties of months of heavy searching, but according to Col. David Hunt, there are at least fourteen good soldiers dead as well as another crippled for life. All because a selfish young man felt he had more in common with the enemy than with this nation. The eight names currently known include the aforementioned four men as well as PFC Morriss Walker and Staff Sergeants Clayton Bowen, Kurt Curtiss, and Michael Murphrey. Fourteen lives sacrified for a deserter. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

“I believe he was a deserter. He left his fellow soldiers, leadership, and his country, behind, when he left.” Bergdahl’s platoon leader

On May 31st, 2014, the Obama administration bypassed the legal notice of thirty days required to be given to Congress in these situations and handed over five senior Taliban members in exchange for our nation’s most famous (infamous?) deserter. There is simply not enough space herein to delve into the myriad threats those five men pose to our entire nation, not to mention to our troops still on the ground. The Obama administration has remained unconcerned throughout the last week of media frenzy, and Obama himself has referred to the anger rapidly spreading across America over the trade, as well as the allegations Bergdahl is a deserter, as nothing but a phony scandal. “I’m never surprised by the controversies whipped up in Washington,” Obama told reporters on June 5, 2014.

In fact, the administration at large is circling the wagons around the Muslim-sympathetic Bergdahl family, and they don’t care who they have to burn in the process. An Obama administration member by the name of Brandon Friedman entered the fray on June 4, 2014, with the evident goal of hoping to discredit the soldiers who served so honorably with Bergdahl, who is, himself, nothing but a deserter who cost at least fourteen families the men in their lives. Friedman is one of the rare administration members who actually served, having been in the infantry as part of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He was even part of Operation Anaconda in 2002, an event some service members may recall as a rather major battle in the Shah-e-Kot Valley. But by the time he left the service, he had become a different man, he says, and he wrote a book described by many as “John Kerry-esque” about his experiences. Multiple reviewers called the book “angry and cynical.” Friedman’s bitterness became clear when he took to Twitter to accuse the men speaking out against Bergdahl as “psychopaths.” Yes, a former Grunt is lobbing vile names at combat-hardened members of the military, all of whom risked their lives trying to find a fellow soldier they knew was a deserter from the start. When his tweet went viral, Friedman frantically scrubbed his Twitter account so it no longer mentions his job with Obama. It is, sadly, a typical stellar moment for the Obama administration.

“Here’s the thing about Bergdahl and the Jump-to-Conclusions mats: What if his platoon was long on psychopaths and short on leaders?” Brandon Friedman via Twitter, June 4, 2014

The more information that comes out, the worse things become. Bob Bergdahl, the father of Bowe Bergdahl, has made his dislike of the military abundantly clear. It is not a hatred borne of pain and frustration over his son’s capture, either. Not that you can truly call it a capture when, by all accounts, he walked right into the enemy’s hands. He is not only sympathetic to the Muslims but also took to Twitter immediately following news of his son’s release, tweeting “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!” And one certainly cannot forget the moment when Bob Bergdahl stood next to Obama and praised Allah, chanting a verse from the Koran. Bob Bergdahl’s Muslim-praising moment was immediately approved by an ear-to-ear smile from Obama, but is that really a surprise to anyone?

These are the cold, hard facts, unvarnished for your seething pleasure. Bowe Bergdahl is a deserter, of this there is no doubt. His desertion cost taxpayers an untold millions of dollars, which was nothing compared to the men killed as a direct result of his selfish actions. He took great pains to learn Pashto and Arabic before deserting. According to his platoon leader, in the early part of the search, he heard multiple radio intercepts Bergdahl was looking for locals who spoke English and could connect him with the Taliban. Bergdahl was picked up by the Haqqani Network, an incredibly dangerous, vile group of terrorists who are far more likely to behead an American soldier than keep him fed and housed for five years. Bob Bergdahl, his father, is a Muslim convert, and has a deep-set hatred for America and the American military. And the list goes on. But here is what truly matters: the deserter is ashamed to be an American. Guess what, Bergdahl? Americans are ashamed of you.

Coming next: An in-depth look at the trade made for Bergdhal’s release, what crimes the five terrorists committed, and why they are a current, ongoing threat to our troops and ourselves as a nation.

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