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Should Bergdahl Receive $300K In Back Pay?

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army may end up paying Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl about $300,000 in back pay for the five years he was  a prisoner of the Taliban.

Bergdahl was initially listed as “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown” by the Defense Department on June 30, 2009. However, his status was changed three days later to “Missing-Captured” following the release of a Taliban video showing Bergdahl alive. Bergdahl had walked off of his base, and was released in a prisoner swap in May of 2014.

He was charged and pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy resulting in a demotion from sergeant to private, a fine, and a dishonorable discharge.

Now, the Army is trying to figure out what, if anything, they owe Bergdahl.

Typically, servicemembers designated by the Defense Department as “captive, missing or missing in action” are entitled to receive back pay and allowances. Any additional pay and allowances earned such as promotions or special entitlements are not issued until they are officially recovered or classified as deceased. But this situation is unique because Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion.

In a Nov. 15 letter to Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, 100 lawmakers, led by former soldier Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AK) said that, while they are happy Bergdahl was returned, they remain concerned about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and are urging the U.S. Army not to award Bowe Bergdahl any back pay.

“At the very least, we know Private Bergdahl’s actions, by his desertion admissions in court, jeopardized the lives of his comrades,” they wrote. “Despite being given a dishonorable discharge and demotion from sergeant to private, he remains eligible for significant back pay.”

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Do Trump’s Public Attacks Impact Bergdahl’s Right to a Fair Trial?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Not one to mince words, Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been vocal with his ideas for punishing Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Trump has said that Bergdahl’s fate should include execution, being thrown out of a plane without a parachute, or being dropped in terrorist territory “before we bomb the hell out of ISIS.”

Bergdahl, the soldier who was captured by the Taliban after abandoning his post in Afgahnistan and freed five years later in a prisoner swap, is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Bergdahl was taken captive within hours of leaving his patrol base, Observation Post Mest, and held for the next five years in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, a group linked with the Taliban. He was tortured regularly, starved and tried to escape repeatedly, said Terrence Russell, an official with the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.

Bergdahl’s defense attorneys argue Trump’s attacks are damaging Bergdahl’s chances for a fair trial. The attorneys reference comments that the Republican presidential front-runner keeps repeating, including that five soldiers died trying to save Bergdahl, which the Pentagon has confirmed as being untrue.

Trump and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.)  have been the most vocal critics, trying to pressure the military to punish Bergdahl.

“When they get that kind of media attention, it gets information in front of a jury,” said Philip Cave, a retired Navy attorney who’s not involved in the case. “There is concern that all of this information … prejudices Bergdahl in getting a fair trial.”

What do you think?

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If Found Guilty, Bergdahl Could Face Life in Prison

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By Debbie Gregory.

As a result of his 2009 disappearance from his base in Afghanistan, it was announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will face general court-martial, the highest level of trial in the military justice system.

Bergdahl, 29, is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, and could receive a sentence of life in prison. While desertion can carry a death penalty, Army officials have said that will not occur in Bergdahl’s case. No American service member has been executed for desertion since World War II.

Lt. Col. Mark Visger, who oversaw a two-day hearing for Bergdahl’s case in September,
had recommended that Bergdahl get a lower form of judicial proceeding known as a special court-martial, which would have given a maximum penalty of 12 months of confinement.

Bergdahl’s return was secured through a prisoner swap in 2014, which resulted in the release of five Taliban officials from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl broke his silence last week when he participated in a podcast on “Serial.” He said that within 20 minutes of leaving his base, he had second thoughts, and realized he would face a “hurricane of wrath” from commanding officers. Berghdahl hoped he could find some intelligence that would allow the Army to go easier on him, but got lost in the hills, and then he was captured by the Taliban.

“Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I don’t know, Jason Bourne. I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing,” Bergdahl said.

Jason Bourne is a fictional character who is an elite Top Secret Special Forces operative in a series of novels by Robert Ludlum.

Jon Thurman, a former enlisted specialist in Bergdahl’s infantry company, said that he wasn’t surprised by the Army going forward with a general court-martial. Thurman, who was interviewed for “Serial,” speculated that Bergdahl’s comments in the podcast could hurt his case.

“When that first episode aired, I mean, he sort of hung himself by saying that he walked off and was kinda thinking about doing his own Jason Bourne thing,” Thurman said. “The guilty verdict might come from just that.”

An arraignment hearing will be held at a later date at Fort Bragg, Army officials said. Bergdahl is assigned to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, with a desk job.

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Trump, McCain on What’s Next for Bowe Bergdahl: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Although Bowe Bergdahl’s fate lies in the hands of Gen. Robert Abrams, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that Bergdahl should have been executed. Having previously called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor,” Trump has often railed against the prisoner swap that returned Bergdahl to U.S. custody.

In March, Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl has been accused of leaving his post in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. He was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years, then exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held by the U.S.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot who was tortured and held captive for five years during the Vietnam War, said that Bergdahl is “clearly a deserter,” and threatened to hold a congressional hearing into the case “if it comes out that he has no punishment.” McCain serves as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The preliminary hearing officer on the case, Army Lt. Col. Mark A. Visger, recommended the charges be referred to a special court-martial and that Bergdahl receive no jail time.

Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s attorney, said that McCain is wrong for threatening a congressional hearing over his client’s actions.

“Sen. McCain’s comments are deeply disturbing and constitute unlawful congressional influence in a sensitive military justice matter,” he said.

The preliminary hearing officer on the case, Army Lt. Col. Mark A. Visger, last week recommended the charges be referred to a special court-martial and that Bergdahl receive no jail time.

Fidell said the defense has asked that the charges “be disposed of not by court-martial, but by nonjudicial punishment” — such as loss of rank, a drop in pay, extra work, etc. He has also urged Visger to make his report public

General Abrams is expected to decide soon whether the case should go before a court-martial now that the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding has concluded.

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What Will Bergdahl’s Fate Be? Military Connection

What Will Bergdahl's Fate Be?

By Debbie Gregory.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who led the investigation of Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture in Afghanistan, said he doesn’t think the Army sergeant should go to prison.

Bergdahl alleges that he walked away from his post as part of a plan to express his concerns about his unit’s leadership. While Dahl admits Bergdahl’s concerns were off the mark, “he felt it was his duty to intervene,” said Dahl.

It’s alleged that Bergdahl’s plan was to travel the 19 miles from his post to the forward operating base, sparking a search and creating a “PR event” to catch the attention of someone at the top of the chain of command.

Instead of reaching his destination, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban. His capture and eventual release cost the U.S. five Taliban commanders as part of a prisoner exchange. It also cost his fellow soldiers a grueling and dangerous 45-day search.

Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The outcome of his Article 32 hearing will help determine if he will face a court-martial.

The prisoner exchange, contrary to U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists, drew a lot of public criticism.

At the hands of his captors, Bergdahl was beaten and kept in a cage for three years, and attempted to escape on multiple occasions.

“Nobody knows Sgt. Bergdahl’s story,” said Terrence Russell, senior program manager for the Joint Personnel Recovery Center’s Defense Department office. The former Air Force survival instructor, who has done 125 debriefings with former hostages and POWs from the Gulf War on, said, “I hope someday the world gets to understand how difficult Sgt. Bergdahl had it.”

Bergdahl has several injuries that were more than likely caused by being kept in a crouched position for extended periods.

Bergdahl’s lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, said Bergdahl never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days’ confinement.

If Bergdahl is tried and convicted of the misbehavior before the enemy charge, he could get life in prison.

The presiding officer will forward his recommendations to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner.

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Military Connection: Bergdahl’s Charges, Hearing Set

bergdahl-active-dutyBy Debbie Gregory.

The drama of the Bowe Bergdahl saga continues, as an Article 32 hearing is scheduled for July 8, 2015. An Article 32 hearing is the equivalent of a preliminary hearing under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the laws that govern the behaviors and actions of the U.S. military.

Many civilians don’t realize that when service members enlist in the military, they are essentially surrendering many of their personal rights as citizens. They are also subjecting themselves to a different, often stricter, set of rules under the UCMJ. Because of the importance and severity of their duties, service members are not able to challenge or shrug off the responsibilities of their occupation as easily as civilians can in their workplaces. All branches of the U.S. military are subject to criminal law governed by the articles of the UCMJ.

Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is famous for disappearing from his observation post on June 30, 2009, in the Paktika province of Afghanistan. Bergdahl was kidnapped by the Taliban, and held captive for five years. His release was secured through the exchange of five Taliban leaders being held at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.

In June, 2014, the Army ordered an investigation of Bergdahl’s disappearance and the actions that led to his captivity, as well as his behavior while he was held by the Taliban. The investigation was headed by Major General Kenneth Dahl. In December, the results of Dahl’s investigation were then sent to General Mark Milley at U.S. Forces Command.

In March, 2015, the Army announced that Gen. Milley had made the determination to charge Bergdahl with two counts, for abandoning his post and endangering the lives of other service members. The first charge is under Article 85 of the UCMJ for “Desertion,” with “the intent to shirk important service and avoid hazardous duty.” The second charge is under Article 99 of the UCMJ for “Misbehavior before the enemy.”

If Bergdahl is found guilty of either charge he could face jail time. The Article 85 charge carries a punishment of up to five years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank to E-1, and loss of pay and allowances. The Article 99 is more severe, and could include punishment up to life in prison.

Historically, the Article 99 charge has been used to shame, disgrace or otherwise humiliate personnel who committed actions that go against the values and training of the military. Historical punishments for Article 99 offenses have included publicly ripping rank insignia from the guilty individual’s uniform, or requiring them to display some written message (often using words such as “coward”) describing their disgraceful behavior before their command.

An Article 99 charge is considered outdated by many familiar with military law. Not since the Vietnam War era have high-profile cases involving charges under Article 99 been used. Most notable was in 1968, when Navy Commander Lloyd Bucher was charged with violation of the article after he surrendered the U.S.S. Pueblo to the North Korean Navy.

Bergdahl’s Article 32 hearing will be held at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, and will determine if his case should proceed to a court martial.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Bergdahl’s Charges, Hearing Set: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Update on Bergdahl Story: By Debbie Gregory

Bergdahl update

On Monday, December 22, 2014, the Pentagon announced that Gen. Mark Milley has been tapped to decide the fate of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

For years, Bergdahl’s story has captivated the military community and civilians alike. In June, 2009, then Private First Class Bergdahl, disappeared from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Afghanistan. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by the Haqqani insurgent network until May 31, 2014. Bergdahl was released to U.S. officials as part of a prisoner swap, in exchange for five Taliban leaders being held at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay.

Several of Bergdahl’s former comrades have made claims that he deserted, or at the very least, abandoned his post. Some members of the military blame Bergdahl for the deaths of other U.S. service members that occurred while they were searching for the missing soldier. And some Americans are displeased that we released senior Taliban leaders who were in U.S. custody. And there are those who contend that Bergdahl is innocent. Even the Army has commented that although the circumstances of his disappearance are under investigation, Bergdahl did nothing wrong during his captivity. The whole saga is fraught with differing opinions.

Sgt. Bergdahl is still on active duty, and since undergoing treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center, has been assigned to administrative duty at Fort Sam Houston, pending resolution of highly publicized case.

If the Army finds that Bergdahl did willfully desert or abandon his post, the sergeant will be subjected to disciplinary measures, up to Court Martial. It now falls on Gen. Milley to determine Bergdahl’s fate.

The four-star general is the former commander of Fort Hood, and is currently the commander of the Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). A number of resources will factor in to Gen. Milley’s decision, among them Major General Kenneth Dahl’s investigative report which reviewed Bergdahl’s actions before his disappearance. Gen. Milley has no deadline for resolving the case and is free to accept or reject Dahl’s recommendations.

Gen. Milley’s decision could determine whether Bergdahl is a hero, a villain, or a victim in the story. Those who have watched the entire Bergdahl saga now await the final chapter and subsequent conclusion.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Update on Bergdahl Story: By Debbie Gregory