Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero

Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl

WASHINGTON — 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.

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.”

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.

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20 comments

  • Chucky

    I am glad he is safe but there are a lot of questions about this guy that need to be answered. Why did they spare him when they killed so many others in a very public way? They have even killed civilians over there. Five years is a long time. I’d be concerned that they got to him and the reason they released him is they have plans that he might help them with. They have been known to brain wash people and they certainly had plenty of time to do that.

    • Spoony Jackson Esq.

      YES WE DO! HE TOOK HIS KNIFE AND WATER AND WALKED OFF AND WAS “CAPTURED” LATER THAT NIGHT!

  • Glenn

    I too am disgusted with the two wars Bush got us into. I feel sorry for all our soldiers who have been killed or severely wounded in these wars based on oil. The fact is politicians start wars but make sure their kids never have to go. The vast majority of these politicians have never served either. So, the soldiers who are serving are so brain washed they think they are defending us. The fact is they are not defending us. They are there because of the politicians dirty deeds. They would be better utilized guarding our borders and airports.

    • Chucky

      As of yet, there are not any comments saying that anyone is “disgusted with the two wars Bush got us into”. In fact, I don’t see it as Bush gettting us into them at all. I feel like the terrorists who killed U.S. citizens on U.S. soil did that. And in case you missed it… it has been more than two years. I think if they had not gone to war, we’d be in much worse shape.

    • Ken

      Let me ask you something Glenn. How exactly would you respond to 3000 of your fellow citizens being killed at once?

    • Thomas Noell

      Glenn, say what you will about “Bush’s wars”, but please not that not one act of Islamic terrorism occurred on American soil from Sept. 12, 2001 until the end of the Bush presidency in January 2009 when Bush took the war from the American homeland back to the deserts and caves of Afghanistan and Iraq. That all changed after Obama took office when his “cut and run strategy” in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in a return of Islamic terrorism to American soil, as seen at Fort Hood in 2009 and the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 (but I guess that too is Bush’s fault?). Finally, please check out icasualities.org and note the overwhelming number of American troops who have died in Afghanistan under Obama’s incompetent leadership as compared to much fewer casualties and a victorious direction in the war when Bush was at the helm (630 American troops died in eight years in Afghanistan under Bush compared to 1,693 who have died there in six years under Obama). With that said, I slept much better at night five years ago when we actually had a president who understood the nature of this modern conflict and who took the fight to the enemy instead of pussy-footing around like Obama has in the last five years that has brought terrorism back to the home front.

      • Jim Frees

        Oh dear fuqing God THE BIGGEST FUQING ACT OF TERRORISM OCCURED WHILE HE COWARD IN A SCHOOL FULL OF LITTLE KIDS AFTER HE WAS TOLD DOZENS OF TIMES WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, WHO WAS GOING TO DO IT AND WHERE THEY WERE BEFORE THEY DID IT. So please take your holier than thou BS and pound sand.

  • B

    The truth comes out from the voices of the men he served along side in arms. He is a traitor and has put Americans in harms way and shouldn’t be trusted. He didn’t survive this ordeal as a POW but as a traitor and a sympathizer.

  • JKL

    I was suspicious as soon as I saw his father and heard his statement to his son….there is WAY more going on here.

  • SMH

    If indeed this “American” deserted, and then was responsible for the death’s of at least 6 of his comrades by telling the terrorists what his platoons planned movements were, then he should be tried for treason. Mr Obama bypassed Congress to get 5 of his buddies out of Gitmo.. Official White House statement is that they aren’t “dangerous”. Are you KIDDING me??? Oh they can say a 3rd party country all day long but the Taliban gave them the names of the terrorists they wanted released. Oh and with a promise they won’t travel for at least a year. Blah blah blah… Mr Obama, I think you and your family should house your buddies for the next year since you think they are so safe. It is a sad day for ALL American’s, especially our active Military, that these terrorists were freed. Since when do we negotiate with terrorist for crying out loud??? How many more lives are now at stake? Have you seen the bio’s on the terrible 5 that Mr Obama agreed to release??? If all this plays out the way it is looking then Mr Obama should be tried for treason just like this young man who fellow soldiers say walked away from his post in civilian clothes. And did anyone else have an issue with the father standing with Mr Obama in the rose garden thanking Allah??? There is much, much more to this story. I think most of us are expecting a big Benghazi cover up… Leave no American behind… what a disgrace…

  • Marie Wilson

    This man was a deserter and there is no way that our president had the right to trade those evil men for him. He has just added to the greif of my friends who lost family on 9-11. Mark my words there is .moreto this dog and pony show.

  • MPB

    This country has an absolute obligation to bring ALL service personnel home. We sent them there – (& in this case, for all the wrong reasons) – and we must always do everything possible to bring them home. The prisoners exchanged are little threat: now older & the Taliban has no $$ and is in shambles. Thought I had heard it all, but even I am appalled… This country has sunk to an unimaginable new low of crucifying this pitiable young man – who has already been punished for 5 years – on the alter of American politics!

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