The troops in Bergdahl’s former unit fought back against the latest accusations directed at them almost as soon as they emerged. His defense apparently is attempting to argue that Bergdahl decided to leave because he wanted to report supposed discipline problems to officers at another installation. Yet Bergdahl’s former fellow troops explained why this resurrected excuse is so ludicrous.
“We were literally going back to the FOB Sharana the next day,” then-Sgt. Evan Buetow, Bergdahl’s team leader, told CNN. “If for whatever reason Bergdahl had complaints, he could have brought them to the attention of senior officers before our five-day mission, or easily could have waited a few more hours till we returned to the FOB.”
In addition to what Bergdahl’s fellow troops mention, there also is the fact that he left his weapon and body armor behind when he walked away from his post. A soldier wanting to report discipline issues wouldn’t have done that.
The accusation that his unit had any significant discipline problems is also questionable. It’s based on leaks of a report into Bergdahl’s disappearance from his unit, and that isn’t surprising. Someone had to be blamed and it isn’t surprising that the report leveled some blame on his unit. However, if an investigation were to be done on any given deployed Army unit one might find “lax security practices” and “poor discipline” as well. Furthermore, it’s possible that the accusations of “poor discipline” might be made about some rather trivial things.
Paul Avallone showed that the accusation that the unit had discipline problems might be a non-issue. Troops in Bergdahl’s unit had previously been punished over what appears to be incredibly minor uniform infractions by superiors who apparently didn’t have better things to do. And the pettiness of punishing troops over minor uniform infractions is magnified by another story from 2009. This second story emerged before Bergdahl disappeared but after the soldiers of his unit had been disciplined because of so-called discipline problems.
An Associated Press photographer photographed a soldier fighting in Afghanistan in “I love NY” underwear and a bright red shirt. The photograph ended up in the New York Times.
The soldier in his “I love NY” underwear is “guilty” of a uniform infraction. Even under the updated version of AR 670-1 / DA PAM 670-1 the soldier is out of uniform. The updated regulation states, “Males will wear drawers with all uniforms. Either the brief or boxer style drawers are authorized for wear. Males also may wear commercially purchased brief or boxer versions of drawers, in white, brown, or other neutral colors.” The Army was even more restrictive in the type of underwear male troops were allowed to wear in 2009 if I recall correctly. So the “I love NY” drawers are unauthorized. The bright red shirt in a combat zone is also unauthorized.
However, apparently by the time the soldier was photographed fighting in his “I love NY” underwear and bright red shirt, the DOD realized how ridiculous it was to attack its troops for minor uniform infractions. (Either that, or the DOD just didn’t want to do anything about it because it would have been a PR disaster to do so. After all, the soldier did fear losing “his job if President Barack Obama saw him out of uniform.”)
So attempting to argue that Bergdahl left his post because of discipline problems doesn’t make sense. Troops in his former unit appear to have rebutted that. Furthermore, accusations of his unit’s alleged discipline problems so far have been based on leaks and might be little more than uniform issues and other minor infractions, something even the DOD eventually found petty. Future information might change this assessment, but right now there isn’t much to suggest that there were any discipline issues out of the ordinary.