The year was 2011 and I had orders assigning me to 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry at Fort Richardson, Alaska. I requested that duty station earlier in the year because this was the next Airborne infantry unit deploying to Afghanistan.
The date for the unit’s deployment was late November. I was eager to deploy to a combat zone as a team leader and living in Alaska would be a great experience for my family and me. My assignment eventually had me reporting to Chaos Troop, 1st/40th (Recon).
I didn’t know the unit’s history, so the first thing I did once I was settled in was to go visit the small memorial out front of Brigade Headquarters. There was one monument with the names of 19 soldiers who had been killed in action; I was aware that the unit had two previous deployments, but I didn’t know that they had lost that many men.
I asked the soldiers in my unit a lot of questions since the upcoming deployment was going to be in the same area of operations as the second deployment. I quickly learned about the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan and about the many fire fights and missions that they took part in.
I became very familiar with the names of a few soldiers who were killed on that second deployment. I was told that the outpost I was going to be living on, Combat Outpost Deysie, was named after Private First Class Tyler Deysie, who was killed in 2008. Private First Class Devoe was another name that I came to know well.
But one name stood out: Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl. All that I knew of him up until then was that he was first American soldier to be captured by enemy forces in Afghanistan and that he had still not been found. However, the looks on the faces of my fellow soldiers told me there was more to the story.
What really happened was far different from what was being told through the media. Bowe Bergdahl wasn’t just captured by enemy forces on some mission gone bad. He left his post in the middle of the night. He broke the First General Order that every soldier learns in Basic Training and abandoned his post. He betrayed his unit and his country during a time of war while serving in a war zone.
Private First Class Bergdahl was the Benedict Arnold of our time.
I would come to learn that many of the 19 men killed on that second deployment lost their lives while searching for Bergdahl. It was no wonder that the men in my unit were angry. That third deployment would come soon enough and we would lose men then as well.
My soldier and friend, Corporal Ethan Martin, would lose his life on Aug. 12, 2012. Private First Class Vincent Ellis, another member of Chaos Troop, would also be killed. Three of my friends would be medically evacuated due to combat wounds. The enemy we fought was the same enemy that had “captured” Bergdahl years before.
In 2014, when I heard that now-Sgt. Bergdahl was coming home, I was happy because I knew the Army would be quick to pass the correct punishment on him. But that didn’t happen. Instead, then President Obama welcomed him home as hero.
I was astonished and angry at what I saw on television. I was even more angry that, due to his status as “missing in action,” he was promoted the entire time he was in enemy hands — to the very rank which I had earned through blood, sweat, and tears.
Fast forward to present time. Bergdahl has pleaded guilty in a military court to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. An Army judge is expected to sentence him soon. He could be sent to prison for life.
Bowe Bergdahl is no hero. More than 30 men have been killed or critically injured while searching for him and fighting the men he was living with. Mothers lost sons. Wives lost husbands. Children lost fathers. I lost a friend.
Soldiers do not “like” war. We chose to go so that we can serve something greater than ourselves. We took oaths and did our jobs whether we liked it or not.
But one soldier chose to ignore his duty and turn his back on his brothers and his country. He deserves any punishment that the Uniformed Code of Military Justice delivers to him.
Chad Garcia graduated from Stockdale High School in 2000 and immediately went to work in the Kern County oilfields. He enlisted in the National Guard in 2002 and the U.S. Army in 2005, serving as an Airborne infantryman until 2014.