Army made right decision to charge Bergdahl, fellow servicemembers say

A video screen grab shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sitting in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.   Video from Voice Of Jihad website
A video screen grab shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sitting in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. Video from Voice Of Jihad website

Army made right decision to charge Bergdahl, fellow servicemembers say

by: . | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: March 27, 2015

While some servicemembers’ think the Army made the right call when it decided Wednesday to charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion, others were taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

Army Staff Sgt. Miguel Aponte, assigned to a NATO support unit in Naples, Italy, said Bergdahl deserved to be charged.

“That’s what should’ve happened,” he said. “He deserted.”

Aponte, who deployed four times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, said he hadn’t heard much talk among fellow soldiers after the news and that he didn’t expect the same uproar that accompanied news of Bergdahl’s recovery last year. But he said he believes Bergdahl wanted to aid insurgents when he walked away from his outpost and that he deserves the maximum punishment.

“I don’t have proof, but I think it was with intent to do harm,” Aponte said.

Staff Sgt. Maurice Luckett, who works at the U.S. Army Contingency Command Post at Grafenwöhr, Germany, focused on the message that Bergdahl’s alleged actions sent to his fellow troops.

“As an NCO, your soldiers look up to you. When you desert, when you leave your soldiers like that, it’s like not just leaving one battle buddy but leaving an entire group of battle buddies behind,” Luckett said. “When you have new soldiers in the Army, and if that’s the first thing they see they might assume, ‘Hey, that’s how all of them are going to be.’ ”

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Renante Ochinang, 43, was working at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center when Bergdahl was released from Taliban captivity in June 2014.

He didn’t directly treat the solider, but Ochinang said he remembers the conflicted feelings he had at the time. The excitement of hearing that a captive soldier had been rescued was tempered by subsequent news reports that he may have intentionally left his post, he said.

“He wouldn’t be in captivity if he didn’t leave his post,” Ochinang said. “He’s suffered” to be sure. But “as far as leaving your post because of misgivings or (being) disgruntled, separating from your unit could put your unit in danger. Is that fair to the other soldiers?”

No, it’s not fair, according to Air Force Maj. Janelle Quick, a health care administrator at Ramstein.

“If he willingly left his place of duty, that’s a problem, because he also put other people at risk, not only himself. Worse things could have happened.”

Quinn said holding Bergdahl accountable also “sends a clear message for everyone serving in uniform of what we need to do. That’s to take care of one another and there will be consequences if you fail to follow the rules and regulations that we are charged with.”

Fort Shafter, Hawaii-based soldiers Spc. Bryce Beauchamp and Sgt. 1st Class Donald Stenger were stronger in their condemnation of Bergdahl.

Sgt. 1st Class Donald Stenger, of the 311th Signal Command at Fort Shafter, said Bergdahl had an obligation to the Army and his fellow troops.

“He knew what he was getting into when he signed up. Since he deserted, yeah, he should get what’s coming to him,” Stenger said.

He said when news of Bergdahl’s return from captivity last year there was plenty of discussion about him among the soldiers with whom he works.

“The general consensus seemed to be, ‘Damn traitor jumped ship. Get rid of him.’ ”

Beauchamp said he’d come to believe Bergdahl was a deserter because of statements made by men from Bergdahl’s platoon.

“And just the way he’s behaved since he got back,” he said. “He won’t even go see his family. He won’t go meet his parents face to face.”

Asked what he thought would be a fair punishment, Beauchamp said without hesitation, “Death penalty.”

Some were more pragmatic.

Lt. Col. Wayne Mingo, a civil affairs officer with the 361st Civil Affairs Brigade in Germany, said he was withholding judgment on Bergdahl.

Soldiers who served with Bergdahl blame the Idaho native for the deaths of other soldiers who they say died looking for him. But the military has said little about Bergdahl’s disappearance, and other soldiers’ thoughts on why he walked off a remote outpost in the middle of the night have been largely speculative.

Mingo said he needs “more than hearsay” to form an opinion.

“The facts will come out. If he’s guilty, he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Peter Bell in Yokosuka, Japan, also wanted more facts before forming an opinion.

“We don’t know what really happened, whether he had one of those moments downrange and lost it,” Bell said.

But, if Bergdahl put other people’s lives in danger, the charges are probably appropriate, he said.

Stars and Stripes reporters Wyatt Olson, Erik Slavin, Matthew Millham, Jennifer H. Svan, Steven Beardsley and Michael S. Darnell contributed to this report.