On the day before Veteran’s Day, how inappropriate that we hear more about now Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl. That is ironic if ever anything was. It apparently isn’t bad enough that he received a sentence that seems roughly comparable to a slap on the hand, and a “naughty boy, naughty boy” reprimand.
Now the debate turns to how much money he should be awarded for ‘back pay’ and ‘other benefits’ that he accrued, given his time in grade, as a guest of the enemy. Apparently, soldiers who are Prisoners of War and ‘other’ soldiers in captivity are entitled to what are referred to as exclusive benefits such as $150,000 of ‘special compensation’. Such prisoners might also be eligible for hostile-fire pay and basic pay for their usual duties while in captivity.
Were Bergdahl a true soldier who was captured in battle, and not a deserter who intentionally walked away knowing that he’d be at risk of being captured by the enemy, I’d have no issue with him receiving as much compensation as he was rightfully entitled to receive. That is not the case.
I was greatly disappointed with the initial decision in this Court Martial case made by the presiding officer. Bergdahl entered a guilty plea to the charges read against him. (I should note that an earlier blog mentioned six deaths associated with his escapade but I subsequently learned that was apparently an erroneous report.) Soldiers were injured trying to locate this man whom they thought of as a brother soldier. He was not that. He deserted his post during a conflict. It doesn’t get a lot worse than that if you wear the uniform and disobey orders such as this basic tenet of all military members. Bergdahl’s actions put all those soldiers at risk. That alone is unforgivable in the military where every person backs up every other person. That flies in the face of the oath taken.
Had I been that officer making the decisions, I would’ve been hard-pressed to render the verdict that was issued. Him being dishonorably discharged and demoted from sergeant to private seems too little given what he put others through as they searched for him.
This determination process will answer the question of what, if anything, he deserves beyond the initial decision. It could result in him being fined to recover part or all of the pay he was due and that still awaits him depending upon this phase of the case. That does not, unfortunately, seem to be a real possibility given the first decision. He has already been demoted, I presume back to the time of the promotion in rank. I expect that his pay will be withheld and any sentence will be reduced by time already served as he awaited his proceedings.
So far as a lump sum payment of anything, I believe that just the opposite ought to be mandated. He ought to be forced to return any payment credited to or actually received by him. He ought to be seen as the miscreant he has proved himself to be else he sets some kind of new benchmark in court-martial proceedings. I don’t believe he even deserves his basic pay while he was a captive since he put himself in that potential position whether he thought he was doing so or not. That may not be subject to this Court Martial proceeding.
How many others are there in our society today who received and followed orders while in a branch of our military? How many of those were wounded in that process? How many of those suffered in confinement by an enemy that took delight in torturing captives? What does Bowe Bergdahl getting the best end of this kind of deal say to others now in uniform or who will be in uniform some day in the future?
In my world, the clock stopped running in his favor when he took it upon himself to desert thinking that he somehow would come out a hero. That didn’t happen. He is a coward who deserves nothing short of serving his time and being summarily kicked out of the Army following that term with no benefits to follow.
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