Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Bergdahl’s lack of prison time offensive to veterans

It takes all types of people to make a military, and it’s just a fact of life that if you join the armed forces you’re going to run into a very wide variety of attitudes, from those who believe that the military is perfect to those who believe it’s an abomination they must escape immediately, and everything in between.
The recent sentencing of Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl to a dishonorable discharge is the right punishment for what he did, but the failure to attach at least some prison time is a slap in the face to every man and woman who has served honorably in the U.S. military.
When a service member goes AWOL or UA, it means someone who was scheduled to be off duty has to carry out the assignments of the absent service member.
In addition, Bergdahl’s disappearance triggered a massive and costly search for him, and raised fears that perhaps the enemy had infiltrated his base, abducted him and possibly was torturing him for information on the base’s security set future infiltration missions that could have left many more American troops dead.
The anger felt by those who searched for Bergdahl and were injured — as well as their families — is real and heartfelt. Bergdahl deserted his post in the face of the enemy. It wasn’t like he went AWOL from a stateside base and went home to his family or to Las Vegas.
We are told that he felt his mission was to tell high-ranking officers that the unit was not being run properly. There were countless other ways he could have brought his concerns to higher authority; leaving his post in enemy territory was the worst. The belief that he might not have been in his right mind is no excuse. Bergdahl’s actions exposed the whole base to a possible attack.
Bergdahl’s defense used the fact that the enemy captured him and tormented him to try to persuade that military that he had “suffered enough,” but there are plenty of other people still suffering because of that bad decision.
Bergdahl deserves a much more serious punishment. It upsets me that he probably won’t get it.
I served on active duty in the Marines from August 1978 to August 1982, and I spent the first year and a half going through basic training and the schools for my field of service (aviation maintenance). When I arrived at my squadron in Yuma, Ariz, in early 1979, I knew enough to realize that I wanted to be someone who finished his term of service, then returned to civilian life.
One of the first training films I saw soon after arriving at Naval Air Station Memphis for aviation training was about a young Marine who wishes to go on leave to apologize to his father for some verbal abuse, and is advised by a fellow Marine that with the unit about to leave for a few weeks of field training that the sergeant major is bound to reject his leave request.
“You’re better off just taking off and going UA (Unauthorized Absent),” the fellow tells the story’s protagonist, who leaves but is captured soon after, then brought back for disciplinary action that includes a term in the brig.
Training films in the military tend to not be Hollywood productions in terms of acting and quality, but the message was important. It’s all revealed to be a bad dream. The Marine requests his leave, and gets it, and goes home to apologize to his father.

At Parris Island, the drill instructors of my platoon warned us about being wary of the “‘birds,” who will try to persuade new arrivals that the unit is in disarray and the NCOs and officers in charge are inept and not worthy of respect and obedience.
“You’ll notice that they’re all privates even though they’ve been in the Corps for several years,” one drill instructor said.
“That should be warning enough. They’ve been in trouble and punished for it before. Don’t join in with their negativity.”
One Marine in my squadron was an example of someone whose career had gone off track. He had, over the course of four years, advanced all the way to sergeant (E-5) and re-enlisted for six more years. He got a nice five-figure cash bonus (serious money in 1979), a bump to staff sergeant (E-6) and a room in the Staff NCO barracks. He had a good job without heavy lifting and no more dirty mess duty or boring guard duty details in addition to his regular work.
According to a fellow Marine, this guy then went UA for several months and was caught, demoted and returned to the regular barracks. He kept going UA, kept getting caught, kept getting punished and finally was demoted to private and restricted to barracks all day except for work, worship services, visits to the chow hall or medical, and visits to the PX for health and comfort items.
He had a room to himself to keep his bad attitude from infecting everyone else. I was the Duty NCO on the night when two military police officers and the officer of the day came to the barracks and took him away for good.
No one was sad to see him go.
For when he wasn’t present to do his job, someone else had to pick up the slack. That’s something the media never tells in its stories about a military deserter: the impact on those in the unit who are left behind and have to take on extra duties.
There are two sides to every story, I’ve always been told. Unusually, we’ve been able to hear from those who did their duty and paid the price for Bergdahl’s disloyalty and misbehavior.
It’s time for Bergdahl to pay.

November 8, 2017 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , ,

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