By Jay Kirell
There’s a lot that really bothers me about this Bowe Bergdahl story.
It’s icky. It’s slimy. It’s filled with half-truths, rumors and five years of pent-up confusion and anger.
It bothers me that there was a foolishly-rushed news conference that Obama conducted with Bergdahl’s parents after the announcement of the transfer was made.
It bothers me that pundits and media types who have never known what it’s like to have a child go off to war make immature remarks over Bergdahl’s father because he has a really long beard.
It bothers me that the arrogant civilian media debate the value of Bergdahl’s life like they were debating the value of trades in sports.
And then there’s the soldiers who served with Bergdahl. It bothers me that they’re appearing on every news channel under the sun telling anyone who will listen what their former platoon-mate was really like.
Not because I don’t believe they have a right to speak their mind.
Not because I don’t understand what they think they’re doing.
But because I know soldiers. I know infantrymen.
If you think you’re going to get an accurate and unbiased account of Bowe Bergdahl from the people he served with, you have no idea what the infantry is like.
You’ve heard of the blue code of silence – the unspoken rule in police departments not to rat on each other and defend themselves against charges of misconduct.
Well, the infantry is really no different. It’s a green code of silence where you agree not to discuss certain events, not to ask questions, and settle upon a story that takes the heat off of you and puts it somewhere else.
While I’m not alleging misconduct on the part of those who served with Bergdahl, and not suggesting their account of what took place the night he disappeared is false, I am saying they do have a motive for slandering his character and criticizing the prisoner exchange that led to his freedom.
Firstly, and most realistically – they’re genuinely pissed at Bergdahl for walking away and don’t want him treated like a returning hero. Unless you’ve spent the summer fighting season in Afghanistan it’s hard to understand all the work that’s required not only to fight the enemy, but just to conduct the day-to-day living required to be able to fight the enemy. Throw on top of that one of your own seemingly walks away in the middle of the night and now you have to go risking your life to search for him – it’s a recipe for anger and a long-standing view that you’ve been betrayed.
Secondly, from what I understand, their entire brigade has been under some sort of gag-order not to talk about Bergdahl to the media. Obviously, after being told you can’t talk about something for so long the first thing you’re going to do after you’re allowed to is run to the nearest person who will listen.
Thirdly, the first people to take an interest in their now-publically-available story were apparently Republican operatives, eager to use the soldiers’ emotions and anger at Bergdhal as a backdoor way to get veterans on-camera knocking the president via his transfer of Taliban detainees.
Fourthly, by having the soldiers come out and trash Bergdhal’s character and actions before he has a chance to tell his side of the story, those he served with are writing a narrative the media is all too willing to go along with, which also, coincidentally, takes the heat off of them.
I only say that because when I was in Afghanistan, I was on a really small outpost too and the only way someone could just go missing for few hours without being noticed is if someone was sleeping (not to say that’s what happened). Because if a soldier could crawl away in the middle of the night without being noticed that doesn’t say much for the guys on guard who were supposed to be watching for movement around their position.
So far about a half dozen of those who served with Bergdahl have come forward to speak with the national media. From the interviews I’ve seen, they’re often asked what he was like and reply with terms that point to him being well liked, and not “one of the boys.”
“He was a little odd. Being in the infantry is an incredibly tight brotherhood,” Sgt. Evan Buetow a soldier who served with Bergdahl told CNN this morning. “We go out to dinner, we do everything. He was a bit of an outcast – not that we casted him out – he just, he had no cell phone, he didn’t watch movies or tv. He just read books and studied prior to the deployment.”
Which is a funny thing to read, because that sounds just like me prior to deployment. I didn’t hang out with many people. I tried to read up on Afghanistan and I didn’t own a cell phone or watch tv. I also had, if not a love for Afghan people, a certain respect for them as individuals that others I served with didn’t.
Of course, I didn’t abandon my platoon in the middle of a war, so we’re not exactly the same, but I understand what it’s like to be considered the odd bird in an infantry unit.
You may all be brothers, but you’re not all friends. Brothers will have each other’s backs when they’re at war. Friends will have each other’s backs when they’re home.
Bowe Bergdhal went to war with many brothers and few friends. He comes home to neither.
Those who served with him are airing their grievances right now, trying to set the record straight as they see it. Soon enough, Bergdhal will have his say and try to do the same.
Not that it’ll matter at that point, those who served with him have made sure the public has their version of the story first, with plenty of time for the oddball Taliban-loving deserter narrative to sink in and take root.
After all, who would question those who served with him, who knew the guy best?
Certainly not the military-ignorant media.
Certainly not those who stand to benefit politically from painting Obama as the president who traded five terrorists for a traitor.
Certainly not those who weren’t there.
If I hadn’t served, I probably wouldn’t question those who were there either.
So I can’t just take their word for it, even if I have no clear reason to doubt their version of events.
Of course, not having a reason to question the accounts of those who were on the ground at the time is a big reason it’s often said truth is the first casualty in war.