There is no more cowardly act than to desert your unit during combat operations. That is why for all time it has carried a death sentence as punishment. Desertion is when a soldier leaves his unit with no intention of returning; treason occurs when they collaborate with the enemy; while AWOL is when a military member is missing from duty when expected to be on duty. All are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In the Afghan and Iraq situations where the administration has constantly reduced the number of troops, every soldier is an intricate part of the mission.
I am going to try to put the Bergdahl incident in perspective. Private Bowe Bergdahl was apparently disaffected with his platoon and its leadership. This is not an uncommon feeling during stressful times. His fellow soldiers say he became increasingly removed from the rest of the platoon, and in the middle of the night he left a note explaining his intentions. He left his equipment, his weapon and possessions then climbed a concrete wall to leave his Forward Operating Base. He then made his way into the countryside allegedly searching for the Taliban.
The next morning he was reported as missing, and a 5-year search at great peril to his fellow soldiers began. It is a certain truth when you hear "soldiers do not leave soldiers behind," a truth under any circumstances. At least six deaths been attributed to the search for Bergdahl. Eventually, he was listed as AWOL and presumed captured. After a while, he showed up on video as captured by the Taliban. Recently Bergdahl was released in a prisoner exchange, which is very questionable in every manner.
So now the question is what should we do about him? We should do what we can about fixing him mentally and physically first. Then an Article 32 investigation (one such investigation was already completed) should be held to determine if Bergdahl was AWOL, if he deserted, or simply went for a walk-about in the middle of a combat theater. An Article 32 hearing is like a grand jury investigation, which he is entitled to as an American soldier. This should determine what, if any, charges should be leveled against him. If charges are warranted, the military would then convene the appropriate courts-martial. That is what he is entitled to, nothing more, nothing less.
Here are some of the troubling things as I see them. Why was Bergdahl promoted to sergeant if he was listed as AWOL? Why were five extremely dangerous killers traded for one questionable soldier? Why was there no time to inform Congress (not seek their permission just notify) yet there was time to fly family from Idaho for a rose garden publicity stunt? Why were his teammates and leadership silenced? Why did Susan Rice say he had served honorably? Why are his teammates, the ones that actually did serve honorably, characterized as hooligans because they refused to portray Bergdahl as a hero?
This whole episode stinks of political gamesmanship. The pawns in the president's game are our highly distinguished and professional military. I strongly agree that Bergdahl should receive a fair hearing in military court and let the punishment or acquittal go its own way. I sharply object to him being portrayed as a hero and the characterization of his teammates as anything other than good soldiers.
This commander-in-chief has done everything in his power to demean our proud military and its 239-year tradition as a highly disciplined armed force, fully capable of defending this country. Perhaps if he had actually served this county instead of his self-serving, he would appreciate how a combat unit stays effective in battle, under the most extreme conditions and creates the best protection for all its soldiers. Because of the administration's bungling at the VA, it needed a photo-op to show how much it cared for our military. Instead, we have just the latest fiasco.
Mike Case is a retired command sergeant major from the U.S. Army.