By: Renee Nal | New Zeal
The following is a first hand account from a soldier who served with Bowe Bergdahl. His submission is posted here, in it’s entirety. Not one word has been altered. The few typos remain. This soldier was one of those who signed a nondisclosure agreement in the wake of Bergdahl’s disappearance. He has opted to remain anonymous. – Renee Nal
For me, the story of Bergdahl’s disappearance begins on FOB Sharana two weeks before he left. Two weeks before Bergdahl went missing, I was getting ready for the next big mission we were to do in Paktika. Our platoon would escort 113 local national ‘Jingle Trucks,’ as we called them, to make several trips between Khayr Khot Castle and Kushamond, transporting vital supplies, additional vehicles, and several loads of gravel that those guys needed in Kushamond. The mission would last 8 days. We spent a week preparing our vehicles, coordinating with other units for security, requisitioning the trucks and drivers from the local populace, requesting support in the form of aircraft and other assets, and updating all the information we knew about the region we would be operating in.
Once everything was ready, and all the required supplies and equipment had been put on the jingle trucks, this monstrous convoy began moving west from FOB Sharana. The task was difficult. The roads at times were such a fine grain of sand that the trucks left wakes like boats do in water. At times, our local drivers became so frightened that they refused to drive any further. They knew where we were heading, and they didn’t like it. These trucks didn’t have any armor, and no one wanted to be transporting 5000 gallons of fuel in an area where IED’s, mortars, and RPG’s were a constant threat. With the proper motivation, however, we convinced them to continue. In the afternoon of the second day of this mission, we caught up to our route clearance element, which was supposed to find and eliminate IED’s before we arrived. Route clearance parties did a fine job, but they don’t always find everything. This was one of those times. To the side of the road, at various intervals were dismounted infantry units, who were securing parts of the road for us before we arrived. As we went along, one of our jingle trucks veered off of the cleared path, and struck an IED. The gravel he was carrying went high in the air, causing the blast to seem larger than it actually was. At that moment, the convoy stopped. As soon as the blast occurred, I saw a soldier running to the aid of the jingle truck driver. Lt Brian Bradshaw didn’t hesitate to render aid to a man in need, even though he had never met him. He was killed as he stepped on another IED, setting it off. This was not our first time seeing death on that deployment. We had fought the Taliban a few times already, without any serious injury. But this was the first time we had lost one of our own. Things really began to change for us after that. Everything took on a more serious tone. We drove through the night, and arrived at Kushamond the next morning.
The next day, we went back to KKC, and we made three more trips over the next few days. During this time, we lost equipment to IED’s, damaged vehicles trying to get them through rough terrain, and had some small firefights. Finally, the time came to return back to Sharana, and we decided to only make a short stop at KKC, since we were making the trip quicker each time, and figured that we could make the full return trip in one long day. At KKC, I remember sitting on a mine roller, talking to some other guys and smoking a cigarette, when we heard that someone was missing from Blackfoot. We heard that a large search effort was under way, and that we were to return to Sharana, get refitted, and get ready to continue operations. It also became quickly known to us that he had left Mest in the middle of the night, on his own.
The next evening, we went out to recover a vehicle that had been destroyed in an IED blast. The vehicle was in Gharbi Kheyl, just south of Mest/Malak, and known for its high concentration of Haqqani and Taliban fighters. I remember thinking to myself that if this is where we thought he had gone, he had to have been captured by then. Soldiers occasionally rig up a system to play music in their headsets on their trucks. When we went down this road into Gharbi Kheyl, we always played AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell.’ It was pretty appropriate for the area. During the next few weeks, attacks increased. Since so many of us were in the area, there were plenty of targets for our enemies to choose from. We began to have IED’s planted in new places, since we tried to avoid traditional routes, and our enemy eventually reacted to us. On one of our trips to Gharbi Kheyl, we hit an IED on our way in there, detained a man, Went back to Mest, which was only a short distance away, and hit another IED on the way out. We then had to return to Gharbi Kheyl and recover the vehicle we originally came there to get.
Eventually, a decision was made for us to operate out of KKC for a month. I guess you can say that we were more comfortable than our brothers who were constantly operating during this period. While they were driving, flying, and walking all over west Paktika, we would wait nearby, at KKC, and wait for the word that we were needed, either to set up a blocking position, or to recover yet another vehicle that had been blown up. It was also during this time that we noticed a size increase in the IED’s that were destroying our vehicles. There were times when we would show up to find an MRAP that was split in half by the blast. Thankfully, there were usually no severe injuries. In most cases, everyone walked away fine. The decision to field MRAPS in large quantities and to ban the usage of Humvee’s just prior to this time saved countless lives which would otherwise have been certainly lost.
Eventually, the search grew larger, and we were searching in places we hadn’t been before. We went all over Paktika, and even into Ghazni and Paktia provinces. The exact sequence is a blur for me now. When you constantly move from one emergency to the next, and spend five years not really thinking too much on it, it becomes hard to remember, even more so with my old age. We began operating out of Sharana again, and slowly began to do missions that were not directly related to the search for Bergdahl. But the search still continued, albeit at a lessened pace.
At about this time, was when I received information that took some time for me to fully internalize, because it shocked me so much. I’m not going into the details, and probably never will, unless the evidence turns up. An officer who I highly respected pulled me aside and informed me that our intelligence cell had found evidence that Bergdahl was an enemy combatant. He had joined the other side. It was not long after this that the search eventually ground to a halt. We moved on to other operations. During the whole search effort, our emotions changed. At first, we were concerned for the welfare of a fellow soldier. When we discovered the nature of his disappearance, it was incredulity. Why would he do that, we wondered. Very soon, it turned to anger. Not just because of the things we had to endure, but because of the knowledge that he had no intention of being one of us. In fact, it was so apparent, that some of us were given ‘shoot on sight’ orders. This was nothing formal. It was one of those things you’re told that never gets written down, or made an official policy, but most of us knew it. We talked about it frequently, although I doubt any one of us would have carried it out. Not only would it be a massive mess, but no one, I think, would have wanted to go down for murder because of this guy.
I don’t know why he did what he did. I don’t know if he wanted to get away, if he was just tired of fighting a war he didn’t believe in, if he actually intended to join the other side, or if he was trying to explore that region of the world without the structure of the Army in the context of war. The truth is, at some point, he made up his mind, and he left us.
What angers me the most, however, is that the American people never heard the truth until just recently. When all this happened, the wildest stories were being told to the people by the media. Some said he was partying with the ANA soldiers. Some said he was stumbling back from a bar (which doesn’t exist). Some said he lagged behind on a patrol. Never at any time did the military or our government correct these wild imaginings. They knew what the truth was, and let the people try to make up their minds in ignorance of the facts. In recent years groups have formed in his support by people who have their hearts in the right place, but have been lied to, and denied the facts.
Before coming home to Alaska, after a hard year at war, many of us were forced to sign NDA’s that were specific to the situation. The NDA’s stated that we were never to speak of those events to anyone, and especially not to the press. We were told it was so that we don’t further jeopardize Bergdahl’s situation with the Taliban. Being that we wanted to see our families again, we went ahead and signed them without argument, and went on about our business. Every time I’ve seen one of these groups advocating for Bergdahl, it has made me sick inside. For years, I’ve had to watch in silence as Americans advocate for a cause that they don’t know to be wrong. Do you have any idea how it feels to watch millions of people go against their own beliefs in ignorance, knowing that you are not allowed to correct them? I do. I’ve been feeling that for five years. I wish circumstances were otherwise. I wish we didn’t have to let these people hope for something for five years, only to crush them when they saw their wishes come true. It must really be awful for them to hope for something for so long, to see it happen, and find out that they had been lied to and the truth had been hidden from them the entire time.
I have seen friends die. I have seen people suffer in poverty, and constant war. I have met young men who have no memory of a time without war in the country they call home. I have ended the lives of other men. None of this, however, approaches having to spend five years watching truth be deliberately suppressed and destroyed, and knowing you have the truth, but are not allowed to make it known. Never again will I spend so much time in silence.
This article was originally posted at Tavern Keepers.
Obama exchanged terrorists to secure Bergdahl’s release: Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari. They were “mostly mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban regime…”
In 2009, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reported that according to an “unpublished” Pentagon report, “about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity.”
American soldiers died looking for Bergdahl.