Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy
He left his outpost in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban hours later
Soldiers who looked for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after he deserted described Wednesday the grueling and dangerous search conditions, with one former Navy SEAL breaking down while detailing the firefight in which his K-9 partner was killed.
Bergdahl, 31, pleaded guilty last week to misbehavior before the enemy and desertion. The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said Bergdahl could face up to life in prison.
Bergdahl deserted from his outpost in Afghanistan in June 2009. Hours later, he was captured by the Taliban. He was eventually released in a controversial prisoner swap in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
During a hearing last week, Bergdahl told the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, that he was trying to reach the base from where he was dispatched.
Hatch was asked why he went on a mission to look for Bergdahl.
“He is an American,” Hatch said, adding, “He had a mom.”
Hatch wept when testifying about the death of Remco, his dog who appeared to have spotted the enemy. The dog was shot in the face and Hatch was hit in a knee.
“I thought I was dead,” Hatch recalled.
’Someone is going to get hurt’
Hatch, who walks with a heavy limp after 18 surgeries, said he had been concerned because there was little time to plan the hunt for Bergdahl, who the other soldiers knew had walked off his post.
“I said, ‘Hey, man, someone is going to get hurt trying to get this kid,” he told the judge deciding Bergdahl’s sentence.
Army Capt. John Billings also testified for the prosecution. Billings, who was Bergdahl’s platoon leader in Afghanistan, said the platoon searched for Bergdahl for 19 days. He described wearing a filthy uniform while looking for the then-private first class.
It was extremely hard on the troops, he said. They went days with no food or water and had no showers for weeks. Some of the men were sick.
“We don’t leave. It’s a motto, ‘Leave no man behind,’” alive or not, he said.
Cols. Clint Baker and John White also testified to the trying circumstances. One platoon was out for more than a month and had to have socks airdropped.
Bergdahl was a captive for five years.
’A critical problem’
Bergdahl told the judge last week that he was trying to reach the base from where he was dispatched.
Bergdahl said he wanted to report “a critical problem in my chain of command,” but did not specify what that problem was.
“I left my observation post on my own,” Bergdahl told the judge last week. “I understand leaving was against the law.”
Bergdahl told the judge that he made “somewhere between a dozen and 15 escape attempts” while held captive.
Bergdahl previously described the torture he endured, which included months chained to a bed and years either locked in a cage or chained on all fours.
Called a traitor and a hero
After five years, the Taliban released Bergdahl in a prisoner swap for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay. At the time, President Barack Obama cited a “sacred rule” in attempting to rescue American service members – no matter the circumstances surrounding their capture.
“We still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that,” Obama said at the time.
Since then, Bergdahl has been called both a traitor and a hero.
In 2015, an Army Sanity Board evaluation said Bergdahl had schizotypal personality disorder. That information was included in the hundreds of pages of documents that Bergdahl’s defense team released on a website called The Bergdahl Docket.
Former comrade: ‘He’s still a coward’
Retired Army Spc. Cody Full, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon in Afghanistan, called Bergdahl a “coward.”