Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Officers Describe 2009 Search for Bergdahl

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Officers Describe 2009 Search for Bergdahl

Article excerpt

SAN ANTONIO - Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's platoon leader said Thursday that the entire platoon was left "emotionally busted" by the physically and emotionally draining search for Bergdahl after he went missing from their post in Afghanistan six years ago. Testifying at the outset of an Article 32 hearing to determine if Bergdahl should face a military trial on desertion and other charges, Capt. John Billings described the weeks of searching for the Idaho native, often on little food or sleep and in temperatures in the high 90s.

"Physically, mentally I was defeated," Billings said, adding that he felt like he had "failed" his men.

Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban captive until being exchanged last year for five Taliban commanders, took notes during the hearing at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he has been stationed since returning to the U.S. last year. Wearing his blue and black dress uniform, Bergdahl answered, "Yes sir I do," when asked if he understood the charges.

Bergdahl's company commander, Maj. Silvino Silvino, said that after Bergdahl went missing from his post in southeastern Afghanistan's Paktika Province on June 30, 2009, some of the thousands of soldiers who took part in the 45-day search grew angry because they felt he had deserted.

"I would tell them we are doing what we are doing because he is our brother," Silvino testified.

Before disappearing, Bergdahl had expressed opposition to the war in general and misgivings about his role in it. Military prosecutor Maj. Margaret Kurz said Thursday that Bergdahl had actually been planning for weeks to abandon the post and had emailed friends and family about his plans beforehand.

"Under the cover of darkness, he snuck off the post," Kurz told the officer presiding over the hearing, saying she thinks the evidence is sufficient to warrant a court-martial. Prosecutors planned to call one more witness, the commander of Bergdahl's battalion.

Before the hearing, which could last several days, legal experts said they expected Bergdahl's lawyers to argue that he suffered enough during his years in captivity.

His lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, has cited an Army investigation that determined Bergdahl left his post, but not the Army, and that his "specific intent was to bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer. …

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