Convicted deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl may be entitled to around $300,000 in back pay from the U.S. Army for his time spent in captivity.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, and last week, a military judge ruled that the sergeant would not serve any prison time, but would be dishonorably discharged, be required to forfeit pay, and have his rank reduced to private.
Normally, a soldier who had been designated as missing or captured would receive the pay immediately upon their return. But in Bergdahl’s case, he may not be considered a prisoner of war since he pleaded guilty to desertion.
“My understanding is there has to be an administrative determination of his duty status at each point, from the time he was captured until now,” an army official told the Army Times. “In order to figure out what he’s owed, you’re basically going to have to start from that point of captivity.”
The 31-year-old went AWOL in 2009 and stayed with the Taliban for five years. Several U.S. servicemen were injured searching for him, in harrowing accounts that brought a heightened degree of emotion and controversy to the case.
For example, Army National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Allen was shot in the head while searching for Bergdahl. The traumatic brain injury he sustained during the mission left him confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak to his wife and two children.
Rather than decline a second tour of duty, “he told me that he was coming back to a frontline unit because they were going to be deployed, and he didn’t want his guys to go alone,” family friend and Gold Star father Richard Stokely told The Associated Press.
And while Cpl. Juan Morita’s injuries were not as severe, he still lost the full use of his right hand.
“I can’t even change the oil on my car,” he said.
After the Iraq veteran returned home, he began settling into civilian life again by enrolling in college and getting a job.
“I was enjoying life,” Morita added.
But the reservist was recalled to Afghanistan and ended up on the same mission with Allen, as they sought to bring back Bergdahl — and a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) slammed into his right hand during that search.
Although the RPG didn’t explode, Morita’s hand was shattered, and he lost the use of his thumb and forefinger.
“Every time I hit my finger on something, there’s only one image that pops in my head, and it’s him,” said Morita, who also admitted to being astounded by one of the traitor’s prior admissions.
Bergdahl said in a previous statement to the court that he never thought such a large search effort would be undertaken for him, something that didn’t ring true with Morita.
“I mean, anybody who’s ever watched ‘Black Hawk Down’ would know that we do that,” the Californian said.
The third man whose life was forever altered by Bergdahl’s desertion was a former Navy SEAL, retired Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch.
Hatch, who was on a separate mission, had just an hour and a half to plan with his team before launching the search — but understood its importance.
“I did not want Sgt. Bergdahl’s mother to see her son executed on YouTube,” he said.
But during their pursuit, he was hit in the leg by AK-47 fire directed at the team’s helicopters as they were landing near the Pakistan border. He only survived because his team quickly provided a tourniquet.
“They saved me from bleeding to death,” added Hatch, who still limps as a result of the wound.
However, a military dog accompanying the team was killed by the enemy fire.
Bergdahl was freed after then-president Obama exchanged five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for him.
But in an interview given to British newspaper The Sunday Times, Bergdahl also indicated that the Taliban treated him better than the U.S. military has since his return home.
“At least the Taliban were honest enough to say, ‘I’m the guy who’s gonna cut your throat,’” he claimed.
“Here, it could be the guy I pass in the corridor who’s going to sign the paper that sends me away for life,” he added.