By Jay Kirell
You get all types in the Army.
You find out who those types really are when a war breaks out.
Some will have your back. Others will stab you there.
The Bowe Bergdahl story is no exception.
I became vaguely aware of Bergdahl’s story shortly after I enlisted. In the back of the Army Times newspaper I used to pick up at the commissary the name “Bowe Bergdahl” was featured in the back of the publication, under a section marked KIA/POW. The names of those killed in action changed with each subsequent issue, but the sole name under the prisoner of war column never did.
I found that interesting, but I didn’t have enough time to investigate his story further, as I was preparing for my own adventures in the same country Bergdahl went missing. He had already been in Taliban custody a year before I arrived in Afghanistan.
Like Bergdahl, I spent my time at war as a lowly private on a tiny outpost in the rural southeastern part of the country.
Like Bergdahl’s platoon-mates, I know what it’s like when someone in my unit deserts us in a time of war (though in my case, not by walking away from an outpost).
The Idaho native disappeared in the middle of the night on June 30, 2009 and was only released from custody this week, almost five years after his capture.
The circumstances surrounding his release (a prisoner exchange) are almost as controversial as his disappearance (believed to be desertion) in the eyes of those in the military community. Many are upset at President Obama for negotiating Bergdahl’s exchange for five mid-to-high-level Taliban detainees who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Those who question the President’s decision are partly focused on the legality of the release, with federal law stating that the president must inform Congress at least 30 days in advance of any transfers at Guantanamo Bay.
The fact that the White House went ahead with the prisoner exchange anyway has been defended by those who say time was of the essence in the negotiations, an excuse which has done little to discourage those who consider the entire concept of negotiations with the Taliban to go against longstanding US doctrine of “not negotiating with terrorists.”
Because anything Obama does is going to be questioned, even if its bringing every last captive American soldier home from war.
What gives fuel to the fire of criticism leveled at Obama for the Bergdahl release is the public statements made by Bergdahl’s platoon-mates and those who served with him – statements which completely decimate the character and actions of the recently-returned sergeant.
Some painted him as a loner and an odd bird who never fit in with the rest of the platoon:
“He wouldn’t drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds,” Cody Full, a Specialist and former platoon-mate of Bergdahl told the New York Times. “He was always in his bunk. He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there, learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.”
There were claims of warning signs:
“He had sent all his belongings home — his computer, personal items,” Full told the Times, saying Bergdahl used to gaze at the mountains around them and say he wondered if he could get to China from there.
After he went missing, his platoon took up frantic searches to find him, consisting of long, daunting and dangerous patrols which seems to fuel most of the anger directed at Bergdahl.
Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Bergdahl’s platoon, told the Times in an interview arranged by Republican strategists (hmm). “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”
Some allege deaths occurred as a result of the search for Bergdahl. The Pentagon disputes the notion, saying the allegations aren’t substantiated by casualty reports. The New York Times even indicated Bergdahl’s harshest critics are using his disappearance and resulting search “for every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance.”
So far nobody he served with has jumped to his defense, which makes critics of the President’s deal with the Taliban believe they have a strong hand.
It’s why those critical comments from his platoon-mates to the New York Times were arranged by Republican strategists.
They know few will stand up to defend the honor of someone who walked out on his unit in the middle of a war.
They know few will question the word of those who served with Bergdahl.
They know the facts – scant and shady as they may be – point to someone who walked into the arms of the Taliban rather than being abducted by them.
At best, Bergdhal was a confused, naïve young man who didn’t think through his actions five years ago in Afghanistan.
At worst, he’s a deserter who up and left his unit with complete knowledge and forethought, an act technically still punishable by death.
Either way, he is still an American soldier.
Whether he came back dead or alive, he was coming back a soldier.
Whether he was a good guy or a bad guy, he was coming back a soldier.
Whether he was a misunderstood hero or a well-known scoundrel, he was coming back a soldier.
Even if he didn’t want to be one when he left, he was coming back a soldier.
Because even the worst American soldier is worth a half dozen Taliban. That’s how serious America takes the promise it makes to those who it sends off to war.
We will bring you back. Even if you fuck up. Even if it’s not politically expedient. Even if everybody hates you.
Because you wore our uniform and you’re one of us.
Even if you were the least of us.
Even if you were a blue falcon.
That’s good news for those who seek to make political hay out of the Bowe Bergdahl story; those who wish to weigh Bergdhal’s actions against those of the Guantanamo prisoners and cast judgment on the value of the tradeoff as if it were a fantasy football trade.
Those are the real blue falcons. Squawking and screeching, they would leave Bowe Bergdahl to the Taliban to have his head cut off and execution broadcast on the Internet.
All because they think they know his worth. All because they think they know the story.
And of course, because it’s an election year.
For their sake, I hope they don’t ever find themselves in a position where their freedom depends upon someone they don’t know weighing the value of their life against what their nation would give up in return.
Life is too precious to be left up to the blue falcons.