- Fiza Pirani The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, 31, will not face prison time for abandoning his outpost in 2009, a military judge ruled Friday.
Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years, did, however, receive a dishonorable discharge for deserting his post.
Shortly after Friday’s news, President Donald Trump, who criticized Bergdahl on his 2016 presidential campaign trail, called the sentence a “disgrace” in a tweet.
Here are nine things to know about former American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl:
He’s from Idaho.
He was born in Sun Valley, Idaho, on March 28, 1986, and grew up in Hailey, Idaho, amid the Sawtooth Mountains.
According to the Associated Press, his home was “a humble place with a weather-beaten roof, sits nestled among hills of alder and sage.”
He was home-schooled.
Bergdahl and his older sister were taught at home near Hailey, Idaho, where they lived with parents Robert and Jani Bergdahl.
He received a GED from a local college.
He used to dance ballet.
Bergdahl was a dancer with the Sun Valley Ballet School until his early 20s. He also dabbed in martial arts and fencing and had a love for the outdoors.
Watch one of his ballet performances below:
He once worked as a crewman on a sailboat.
As a crewman, Bergdahl sailed along the East Coast and down to the Caribbean as well as out of Bristol Bay, Alaska.
He enlisted in the Army in 2008 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
In 2009, Bergdahl was deployed from his first assignment in Fort Richardson, Alaska, to Outpost Mest Malak in Paktika Province (eastern Afghanistan), as a machine gunner.
Biography.com reported that though Bergdahl told his parents he was initially thrilled by the experience, he eventually “sour[ed] on the purpose of American forces in the region.”
Their mission in Afghanistan was to “get the Taliban,” Bergdahl’s former Army team leader Evan Buetow said.
That means they’d perform combat operations, but also patrol villages, train the Afghan National Police and gather intelligence by earning the respect of locals.
Platoon medic Josh Cornelison told AP that Bergdahl preferred the humanitarian aspect of the job than the “actual combat side of a deployment. He wasn’t so fond of that at all.”
This is what he said in his last email to his parents from the field.
On June 27, 2009, Bergdahl sent this email to his parents:
“I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live,” he wrote.
Bergdahl also wrote about a time an Army vehicle had run over a local girl, but “we don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks.”
His father responded to the email and wrote, “Dear Bowe, In matters of life and death, and especially at war, it is never safe to ignore ones’ conscience.”
Bergdahl’s parents shared the emails with Rolling Stone magazine.
He abandoned his post on June 30 and was captured by the Taliban.
His abandonment on June 30 set off an extensive search that eventually led to the death of at least six servicemen.
The next month, Bergdahl surfaced in a 28-minute online video posted by the Taliban in which he seemed unharmed.
U.S. intelligence believed he was being held captive by the militant Haqqani network, which had ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
He was released on June 13, 2014.
The Taliban posted several more videos over the next five years featuring Bergdahl in deteriorating condition.
Bergdahl later revealed that he had been tortured and brutally beaten, at times spending long stints locked in a cage, where he was chained on all fours.
In 2014, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. had successfully negotiated his release.
The U.S. agreed to release five Taliban members who were being detailed at the Guantanomo Bay Naval Station in Cuba.
But former platoom mates and other critics spoke out against Bergdahl’s being heralded as a hero during his release.
“That’s exactly the opposite of what he is,” Buetow said.
“In Hailey, joy quickly turned to bafflement as townspeople faced an onslaught of hate mail and angry phone calls from people who said Bergdahl doesn’t deserve to be celebrated. A planned welcome-home party was cancelled. His parents are surprised and ‘very hurt’ by the outcry, a former pastor who is in touch with them said.”
About the investigation and charges
An Army investigation into what led to Bergdahl’s disappearance on June 30, 2009, concluded by charging Bergdahl with “one count of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”
Though the second charge could potentially lead to life improsonment, Bergdahl was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder “at the time of the alleged criminal conduct” in an Army Sanity Board evaulation and now suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder. Investigators recommended he avoid additional incarceration.
Bergdahl spoke about his gruesome experience on the second season of the popular podcast, “Serial,” in 2015 and 2016 and said he initially abandoned his post to rebel against the poor leadership of his Army supervisors and planned to gather intelligence on his own.
After the podcast’s first episode was released, General Robert Abrams of U.S. Army Forces Command said he would reject the original investigation charges and referring Bergdahl’s case to a general court-martial.
During the 2016 campaign trail, president-elect Donald Trump suggested Bergdahl should be executed for abandoning his fellow Army soldiers, a comment the defense said hindered the potential of a fair trial. But the trial went on.
Bergdahl put his fate into the hands of military judge Colonel Jeffery Nance in August and pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
On Nov. 3, Nance ruled Bergdahl would not serve prison time but will be dishonorably discharged.
Bergdahl’s rank was also reduced from sergeant to E1 and he will be required to pay a $1,000 fine from his salary for 10 months.
Sources: AP, Biography.com