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Jun-12-2014 21:37printcomments

Sergeant Bergdahl: The Army's Blunder

A round peg in a square hole. He told the medical staff, “Do not call me Sergeant”.

Bowe Bergdahl
Bowe Bergdahl in this still photo taken from video released by the Taliban 12/2013.

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - I don’t care if you don’t like my title. Bowe Bergdahl was in the wrong place, wrong time, and in the wrong Army. He should have been in the Navy or Air Force, where his natural abilities could have been used and appreciated. It seems that he was somewhat of an intellectual. The infantry is the wrong place for such a person.

The Infantry wants 18-19 year olds to produce cookie-cutter Privates, who will obey orders regardless. That was not him.

The NY Times has printed several articles about him June 6-8, which covered his history quite well. This present article was taken from that source.

At the time he was captured he was 23-years old and a Private, which is unusual. Most privates are 18-19, this difference of age is critical. He had few things in common with his mates. He read books and tried to learn the local language. His buddies played video games or watched TV.

It is obvious that he disdained the Army chickenshit with it’s weird orders and the requirement that they be obeyed--- to the letter and NOW!

It is likely that anybody who has been a Private in the Infantry understands the master-slave relationship which is a requirement in the Army. This was not what he had apparently imagined when he enlisted, though his close friends felt he was making a mistake. They say now that they were worried about his “emotional health”. It took him a while longer to determine that he was definitely in the wrong place.

If he wasn’t fit to serve, the Army wasn’t going to say so. Even with possible psychological issues, he was a shoe-in.

In 2008, the Army was meeting recruitment goals by issuing waivers so people with criminal records, health/mental health conditions and low IQ’s could get in. According to a 2008 Army War College study, the Army issued waivers at a rate of one out of five recruits.

His reaction to reality reminds me of my own experience, there are some similarities.

I volunteered for the Army in 1944. I was a college graduate chemist and I knew the Army could use my expertise. Surprisingly, when I reported to my Infantry division, I was told that I would be a Scout, Point man, and Forward Observer - all of which could be one-way suicide missions. I knew that I could not survive the war.

My best day during the war I captured 26 German officers while I was a Scout and Point man. I am very lucky to be alive. I am a very lucky Infantry soldier!

Toward the end of the war, I was on a Forward observation point till 12 midnight. I was supposed to be in charge of my six other Privates but nobody told them, and they ignored my orders. At 12:05 two of my buddies were captured. Yes, I am a very lucky so-and-so.

Sgt Bergdahl was promoted to Sergeant from Private while he was in captivity.

At the hospital, when he learned that he’d been promoted, he told the staff, “Don’t you call me Sergeant!” He totally resented these extra stripes; he did not want to be the one relaying stupid orders to his buddies.

His platoon of 25 men was screwed up like the rest of the Army. His platoon Lieutenant and his top Sergeant replacement were both replaced. Leadership was a problem for this group, and his platoon was considered “raggedy”, which it was.

It was certain that his platoon members were totally pissed off about their situation. They were far away from the larger units in no-man’s land, like a goat in a tiger trap. Apparently they weren’t doing anything aggressive so the Taliban left them alone. I can feel their despondency.

He tried to do something about it….bad idea. The Army doesn’t like their Privates to do anything except obey dumb orders.

According to the Washington Post, Bergdahl wrote in his journal, “Bullet sponges. This is what some of the SEALs call regular Army and other mass ground troops. Its right, the job of a soldier is to basically die.”

He wrote, “This life is too short to serve those who compromise value, and its ethics. I am done compromising.” Three days later, Bergdahl walked away and didn’t come back. Soon after, he was captured by the Taliban.

His capture and confinement is a different subject. He tried to escape once or twice. He was severely punished by putting him in a small, dark cage. It looked as if he had a broken arm. In the TV news reports of his release, he appeared like a deer caught in the headlights. I’m sure he felt that if he tried to run, they would have shot him.

His story sure to come out will show how totally screwed up the Army is. In the meantime, Bowe Bergdahl is really screwed up. As a former Infantry Private Scout, I have the greatest respect and sympathy for his current situation.

I have the greatest hope for his recovery.
PTSD, which he certainly has, will be a life-long “recovery”.

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Tony November 16, 2016 7:39 am (Pacific time)

There is a lot of truth here. I was a squad leader and platoon sergeant in Iraq. Sadly, I have seen some eight-up units suffering from a leadership gap and it's not pretty. Good leaders have to be grown, not built. They must be both technically and tactically proficient AND able to connect with their soldiers on a personal level. I learned the value of cracking a joke to a terrified private after his first time in combat. BUT, this soldier took the same oath as the rest of us. He signed a contract. Hey disregarded the advice of those telling him not to go in the Infantry. While I empathize with his frustration he shouldn't of gone AWOL. Yes, the Army can be a messed up place but....


Sayuri June 13, 2014 10:15 am (Pacific time)

Great article, I most definitely agree with everything you've said. The US army is to blame for this dire situation. I just hope that bergdahl will now be able to recover and be happy.

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