Friday, June 6, 2014

Now not the time for Bergdahl party


When I first heard about Bowe Bergdahl’s capture, I was about halfway through U.S. Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Ga. I can still vividly recall the flood of emotion with which I was suddenly confronted when I discovered that, not only was a brother soldier in enemy hands, but that this soldier and I, rather improbably, called the same placid valley in Idaho home. I felt shock that he could be captured, terror for the dangers he would face, sympathy for the anguish of his family, and solidarity in our common cause and home.
    Then I started hearing the rumors. The initial report that Bergdahl was captured while “lagging behind” on a patrol was always implausible. In small-unit tactics, no one ever moves anywhere alone. It is entirely inconceivable that a platoon, much less an infantry platoon, would lose track of a soldier while maneuvering outside the wire. Then came the equally preposterous suggestion he was “grabbed out of a latrine.” Without delving into the minutia, it soon became clear that Mr. Bergdahl probably deserted. The rigors of OCS left me with little spare time to devote to studying the details of his capture. So, I carried on. I graduated OCS, received my commission as a 2nd lieutenant, and then dove straight into another six odd months of continuation training at the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course in Fort Knox, Ky. Again, the frantic pace of training and field exercises afforded me little time for reflection, but in the odd spare moment, drifting to sleep on the hoods of Humvees, or on over-watch in an observation position, my thoughts would return to Bowe.
    This crucial fact remains to be confirmed by an official investigation, and until the results of said investigation are made public, I will refrain from the type of invective that such conduct deserves.
    Whatever the case, on June 30, 2009, he went missing. In military parlance, when a soldier goes missing, a “DUSTWUN” is declared. It’s the last thing anyone wants to hear over the net. It means that everything in a given Area of Operations grinds to a halt and all operations are entirely re-purposed to the sole end of locating and securing the missing soldier. It seriously endangers all the soldiers involved because it interrupts their operational tempo and forces them to risk speedily racing down unsecured routes, and hastily clearing unsecured areas during the course of rescue operations. In the weeks following Bergdahl’s disappearance, men from his unit went out to look for him, and some of them didn’t come back.
    That Bowe Bergdahl has been repatriated to the United States is an unambiguously positive development. I share my community’s sense of relief that the man may soon return to his family relatively unharmed. Furthermore, I bear neither him, nor his family, any ill-will.
    I do, however, think it is incumbent upon members of this community to come to terms with the fact that, while one town may soon be reunited with a native son, there are six other towns scattered across this country that never will be. DeKalb, Ill.: Murray, Utah: San Antonio, Texas; Chapel Hill, N.C; Snyder, Texas: and Dallas, Texas, can never hope for such a reunion. These are the home cities of PFC Matthew Michael Martinek, SSG Kurt Robert Curtiss, SSG Clayton Bowen, PFC Morris Walker, SSG Michael Murphrey, and 2LT Darryn Andrews.
    I must again emphasize that we do not know all the facts, but it appears that there is an appreciable chance that these men, and perhaps more, may have died in operations connected with the search for Bowe Bergdahl.
    If individual members of the community wish to hold sedate, private celebrations on private land to commemorate Bowe’s homecoming, they are of course free and welcome to do so. It would have been, however, monstrously obscene if a garish public ceremony, financed by public money, were to have been held in a public space. It would have been more monstrous still if this ceremony were to have heaped undeserved adulation on Mr. Bergdahl, or adopted the sickly hue of ostentatious jingoism that all too often colors such occasions.
    If an investigation clears Mr. Bergdahl of wrongdoing, then we can have a party, and I hope I can be there. Until then, however, this man deserves no applause, and this town deserves no party. For now, the only appropriate response is sober reflection upon all the other towns across America that definitely won’t be throwing parties, because their sons are never coming back. The only appropriate response is silence.


    Jonathan Kennedy graduated from the Community School in 2002. He served as an officer in the Army for four years, first as a platoon leader at Camp Casey Korea, near the DMZ, and subsequently as the executive officer of Headquarters Troop, 6th Squadron 8th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Stewart Ga.

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