It’s a small piece on a large timeline – but a fact that shouldn’t be ignored – that former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his Afghanistan outpost in 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban for five years, had actually enrolled in U.S. Coast Guard basic training prior to enlisting in the Army.
Bergdahl received an “uncharacterized discharge” from the Coast Guard in 2006 after only 26 days of basic training, reportedly for psychological reasons, according to past reports that cite Coast Guard records. An “uncharacterized discharge” is given to those service members who are discharged before 180 days of service.
Then, in 2008, Bergdahl enlisted in the Army, completing Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He later deployed to Afghanistan.
Bergdahl, now 31, was recently sentenced for the charges against him, which were desertion and misbehavior before the enemy; he had pleaded guilty to the charges in October. A military court judge determined that Bergdahl will receive a dishonorable discharge from the Army and a demotion in rank, but he will not have to serve prison time.
In 2014, the Obama Administration was able to get him back to the United States through a prisoner swap. Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Reports following Bergdahl’s release from the Taliban in 2014 discuss the Coast Guard discharge and that the Army was aware of the discharge; reports also discuss Bergdahl’s perceived psychological state.
“A senior Army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Army was aware of a prior ‘administrative discharge’ when Bergdahl enlisted,” The Washington Post reported at the time. “A separate Army official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Bergdahl would have required a waiver to enlist under such circumstances. The official could not immediately confirm that Bergdahl received one.”
The Coast Guard discharge, coupled with friends’ accounts of Bergdahl as a troubled young man and his own writings, “paint a portrait of a deeply complicated and fragile young man who was by his own account struggling to maintain his mental stability from the start of basic training until the moment he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009,” The Washington Post had reported.
The New York Times had reported at the time that the Coast Guard discharge raised questions about whether or not Bergdahl should have been allowed to join the Army in the first place.
Following his sentencing, it has been recently reported that the Army will determine whether or not Bergdahl will receive a big payout – up to $300,000 in back pay and benefits – or have to pay back some of his salary from time spent in captivity. Bergdahl pleaded guilty in October to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after deserting his Afghanistan outpost.
A military judge at Fort Bragg ruled that Bergdahl will receive a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Military. Bergdahl was also demoted from sergeant to private, but he does not have to serve prison time – which could have been a life sentence, given the charges against him.
Bergdahl’s case is not cut and dry, given that he ultimately deserted his Army outpost, but the Defense Department had marked him as “Missing-Captured” after a Taliban propaganda video came out featuring him alive. The Defense Department had previously marked Bergdahl as “Duty Status-Whereabouts Unknown.”
Soldiers who are captured normally are given about $150,000 in special compensation, plus hostile-fire pay on top of their basic pay at the appropriate rank during time they are in captivity.
However, because of his guilty plea, the Army must decide whether to treat Bergdahl as a prisoner of war or not; as a prisoner of war, Bergdahl would be eligible for back pay and benefits accumulated during time in captivity.
According to an Army pay chart for active duty soldiers, an E5 with less than two years experience – Bergdahl’s rank while in captivity – would make a little more than $27,000 a year. At five years, that’s approximately $135,000.
The Army Times reported that an official said Bergdahl would only be given his accumulated basic pay.
But the Army could also decide that Bergdahl should not be paid for his time in captivity, given his guilty plea – meaning he would have to pay back his salary; and the Army could also determine he was overpaid since being back in the U.S., the official told the Army Times.
Bergdahl could have served a life sentence in prison. The prosecutors had said Bergdahl should receive 14 years in prison and a punitive discharge from the military. Bergdahl’s defense attorneys argued in favor of leniency, and said he should receive a dishonorable discharge and no prison time – that he has faced enough punishment after five years of captivity.