By Jay Kirell
There are a thousand different questions surrounding Bowe Bergdahl.
You know the one that sprang to my mind first when I heard the story of him supposedly just up and walking away from his outpost in 2009?
Who let him walk away?
That’s a question nobody is asking in this story.
Nobody has asked the soldiers in his unit who are speaking out against him. Nobody has asked the military experts giving analysis about his value or the pundits who debate the terms of the prisoner transfer that led to his release.
Who let him walk away?
Because I’ve spent some time on an outpost in Afghanistan. In the summer fighting season, we had four positions we used for 360-degree coverage of our AO. We had two men at each position and we rotated guards every three or four hours. If someone came within 50 meters of our outpost in any direction someone in one of the guard towers could see them.
Even at night, we could see everything. We had fairly decent night-vision goggles, we had thermal sensors. Considering the amount of foliage and concealment available in the summer months in Afghanistan, I believe it was actually easier to pull guard at night than during the day.
Bowe Bergdahl is alleged to have either walked straight off his outpost or crawled under wire in the middle of the night.
How did nobody see him escaping? How did nobody hear him escaping? How can a bunch of guys with night vision goggles not notice a human figure walking or crawling away?
I’ve spent many nights in a guard tower in Afghanistan. From what I experienced, I can say that the only way someone could sneak onto or off of a combat outpost without anyone noticing is if the guards were doing something other than guarding.
Like sleeping, for instance.
I’ve spent many nights in on guard after spending many hours during the day on long, grueling foot patrols. I know what it’s like to lose focus and get tired. Soldiers fall asleep on guard, it’s happened in every war that’s ever been fought.
It’s a reason why units have a position called SOG – Sergeant of the Guard – who is responsible for doing hourly radio checks with those in towers or on guard duty; performing spot inspections to see if the guards need anything; or just generally checking up with those on watch to make sure they’re, you know, actually watching stuff.
And not sleeping, which is the only explanation I can think of that would account for how a soldier could pack a bag and escape in the middle of the night without being detected.
It’s a disturbing thought, but not outside the realm of possibility. If you do believe he walked away – which most do – how could those on guard have not noticed one of their own making an escape?
Because if, on that night, an American soldier could figure out a way to escape the outpost unnoticed – what does that say about the security that was set up to prevent the Taliban from entering unnoticed?
That it was lacking, obviously.
This isn’t to say that those on guard the night Bergdahl’s went missing bear any direct blame for his escape and subsequent capture, because from all appearances the Idaho native left on his own free will. However, the lax security that afforded the opportunity for him to escape – that allowed a troubled soldier to either walk out the front door or crawl out a side corner of the outpost – does provide a motive for those who would seek to shift attention away from their failures and onto Bergdahl’s desertion.
I would say Bowe Bergdahl deserves the scorn of his platoon-mates for appearing to abandon them in a time of war. But as long as we’re tossing out questions about character and service, there should be some reserved for those who served with him who were on guard that night.
They let him walk away. And so far nobody has asked why.