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Why Was Bergdahl In The Army In First Place?
In two hours of unsworn testimony Monday, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl called walking off his remote outpost in Afghanistan “a horrible mistake.” He has already pleaded guilty to desertion and faces the prospect of life in prison during the sentencing phase of his court-martial, which continues on Fort Bragg. Bergdahl also testified about his brutal treatment while a prisoner for five years under the Taliban, which picked him up not long after he left his post.
Whatever Bergdahl’s fate, his trial may yet leave unanswered one of the more pressing questions in his story: Why did the Army take in the troubled recruit in the first place? He had washed out of the Coast Guard after only three weeks. To even a layperson, his background would not have seemed like one that made him ready to tackle the stress of places like Afghanistan or Iraq. That should have been even more apparent to the Army. As Time magazine asked, “If he couldn’t tend to the coasts, why’d the Army think he could handle the Taliban?”
The Coast Guard has an undeserved reputation as being easy duty. For certain, the training in its boot camp is not easy. The dramatic circumstances of Bergdahl’s failing to complete the training is not so much evidence that he could not handle an easy entry process, but that he was probably not a good candidate for military service, period. The Coast Guard classified his exit during training as an “uncharacterized discharge” — and importantly not a psychological discharge, which would have triggered a mental health evaluation if he tried to join another branch. It is unclear why the discharge was coded in that way, especially since a Coast Guard psychiatrist recommended an evaluation if Bergdahl tried to reenlist. The service diagnosed him with “adjustment disorder with depression.”
In this Sept. 27, 2017, file photo, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl leaves a motions hearing during a lunch break in Fort Bragg, N.C.Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer via AP
The details of Bergdahl’s break with the branch, which were cobbled together for the 2016 podcast “Serial,” present a much more troubling picture. The podcast includes interviews from several people who served with or who knew Bergdahl, as well as audio of Bergdahl himself from an interview he gave to filmmaker Mark Boal. Men who were in the Coast Guard boot camp at Cape May, New Jersey, with Bergdahl describe the cold February night in 2006 when he broke down. They say he did not respond when the recruits were counting off for the night. He was discovered in the bathroom.
“We go running back and, uh, go running into the head,” John Raffa told “Serial” interviewer Sarah Koenig. “And there he was. He, um...he had bloodied himself pretty good. Uh, I'm...we were never sure exactly how he did it, but there was quite a bit of blood. There was some blood on the wall, uh, blood on the mirrors, blood on the...on the...the sink of the counter-top area. Um, and he was bleeding from his face. There was, you know, blood on his hands. It looked like he had kind of smashed his face into the mirror. Um...and he was huddled up crying. He was...he was kind of balled up.”
Bergdahl was weeping uncontrollably. The podcast reports that Raffa and others who knew Bergdahl were surprised when they realized he was the soldier captured by the Taliban. Raffa said simply, “He should not have gone to another branch.”
How Bergdahl wound up there may amount to math, more than anything else. In 2008, when he enlisted, the Army was trying to maintain recruiting goals as the country’s interest waned in two wars that were dragging on. Bergdahl was among the 20 percent of potential recruits to whom the Army granted waivers so they could join. He walked away from his post in Afghanistan the very next year.
Then-Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl interviewed Bergdahl for the Army’s formal investigation and said the recruit had joined the Coast Guard for adventure and to save lives.
“He became overwhelmed and then found himself in the hospital,” Dahl said. “He wasn’t ready for it.”
Bergdahl had similarly heroic goals when he enlisted in the Army.
“I wanted to be World War II soldier,” he told Boal, the filmmaker. “I wanted to be, you know, 1800s soldier. You know, I wanted to be a samurai soldier, a fighter, warrior.”
Instead, he wound up at a remote outpost of dubious strategic value, while his mind turned inward and against his command.
He wasn’t ready for it, and the military should have known.
©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Video footage of a purported "bombing of Kurd civilians" by Turkish military forces shown on ABC News appeared to be a nighttime firing of tracer rounds at a Kentucky gun range.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
The U.S. military's seemingly never-ending mission supporting civil authorities along the southwestern border will last at least another year.
On Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide a total of up to 5,500 troops along the border until Sept. 30, 2020, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said on Monday.
Editor's note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia announced on Monday it would hold a large test of its Strategic Missile Forces that will see it fire ballistic and cruise missiles from the land, sea and air this week.
The exercise, from Oct. 15-17, will involve around 12,000 military personnel, as well as aircraft, including strategic nuclear bombers, surface ships and submarines, Russia's Ministry of Defense said in a statement.