“I will never leave a fallen comrade.” So reads a sentence in the United States Army’s Soldiers Creed. During basic training, all U. S. Army enlisted personnel are taught the soldiers creed. In public ceremonies at the conclusion of training, the Soldiers Creed is recited while standing at attention.
There are no “except, buts, ifs, or only” in the Soldiers Creed; only declarations. Yet the release from five years of captivity in Afghanistan of Army Staff Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (pictured), in a trade for five high ranking members of the militant Taliban held in Guantanamo for a decade, has raised questions about the price and circumstances the United States will or should pay to never leave a fallen comrade.
It appears that Bergdahl voluntarily walked away from his post in Afghanistan. That could be grounds for desertion. Because of the manner in which Bergdahl became American’s only captive in Afghanistan, the “except, buts, if or only” omitted from The Soldiers Creed have surfaced in America; from office water coolers, to bars, cafe’s and the local Starbucks.
Sensing political opportunity, the dissention has been led by Republican politicians who are on the record for initially supporting Bergdahl’s release. More surprisingly is the negative reaction from soldiers, including Bergdahl’s brigade members, as well as the hate which has targeted Bergdahl’s family and Idaho hometown. Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly has gone so far as to take issue with Bergdahl’s father, saying he “looks like a Muslim.” And Bergdhal’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho was forced to cancel a welcome home celebration for the soldier out of security fears.
Adding to the uproar is the recent news that Bergdahl was ‘administratively discharged’ from the United States Coast Guard just twenty six days after he joined. How and why he was allowed to join the Army after being dismissed from the Coast Guard seems to be attributed to the Army lowering its standards in an effort to attract more volunteers. And then there are those five Taliban held for a decade in Guantanamo. Released to the Qatari government who are to watch over them for one year, they are, by all accounts, very bad men. After a year, they will be free to leave Qatar. One, Noorullah Noori, has already vowed to return to fighting the Americans.
As if all of this wasn’t bad enough for the Obama administration, the President clearly broke the law in not notifying Congress of the prisoner swap, angering not only Republicans, but Democratic supporters like Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The backlash over Bergdahl’s release has become a headache for Obama. Knowing what they did about the Bergdahl situation, one has to wonder about the judgement of the President and the advice he received prior to the press conference and celebratory photo opportunity at the White House with Bergdahl’s parents. Didn’t any of his advisors suggest that it could go badly once more information was released? It appears no one in the Administration was anticipating the repercussions. Astonishment has become an all too familiar story line of this Administration. The President was surprised by the initial technical failures of the Obamacare rollout; he was staggered by Putin’s invasion of Crimea; he was stunned by the scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups; he appears startled at the speed of the ISIS takeover of large swaths of Iraq; he’s been taken aback by the thousands of illegal immigrant children the government has shipped around the USA; and he was shocked by the backlash fomenting over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner trade. To many, he has become “President Barack O’what a surprise.” For any leader, a steady diet of “surprise” doesn’t get the job done. It’s about vision, strategy, tactics, anticipation, execution and asking “what if?” In a word, it’s about leadership.
As troubling as this all is for the President and Democrats, the Bergdahl backlash presents another polarizing dilemma for Americans. Are there limits or circumstances in which Americans should leave a fallen comrade behind? There are those who say we shouldn’t negotiate or deal with terrorists. But we do. During the Ronald Reagan administration, it was called the Iran-Contra scandal. Some say the price we paid for the release of Bergdahl was too high. Unlikely, because those five Taliban inevitably would have been released and in war there are always points of negotiation, especially as it relates to combatants held in captivity on both sides. Israel, our staunchest ally in the Middle East, once exchanged 1,027 Palestinian prisoners to get back one of their own. They did it again, trading 1,150 prisoners to get back three of their own.
What about a potential deserter? Do we leave him/her behind or do we get them back and let the military justice system sort out the details as it is designed to do? Should The Soldiers Creed be modified to say: “I will never leave a fallen comrade behind, except, but, if or only?” No, because we are all citizens of this great country. Our military doesn’t fight and die for only a segment of Americans; they do it for all Americans, good and bad. They do it for those Americans who agree and for those who disagree. They do it because, despite our differences, we are a nation of citizenship.
Bergdahl has yet to speak publicly. When he does, it is likely he will generate more comment and controversy among some. Nevertheless, let the military sort out the details of Bergdahl’s capture. This is no place for politicians pushing an ideological agenda or attracting personal or party gain. We don’t abandon our own. “I will never leave a fallen comrade” doesn’t need any exceptions.
Cover Photo Caption: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in an undated image provided by the U.S. Army