The recent release by the Taliban of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five top-level Taliban commanders has drawn criticism across the country. It’s much the same in Stephenville.
Bergdahl, who was serving in Afghanistan, is reported to have voluntarily walked away from his post leaving his weapons behind. He was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years. Soldiers in his unit have castigated Bergdahl for deserting his post, and putting fellow soldier who were sent on patrol to find him at risk.
Adding to the controversy is what many, including some in Congress say was a reckless, out-of-balance and even illegal exchange.
The five Taliban released after years of captivity at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were some of the most dangerous, battle-hardened and fanatical members of the Taliban forces.
Roger Easter, commander of the local American Legion Post said, “We’re certainly pleased and happy that the young man is coming home to his mom and dad. But we are concerned about the entire situation. Of course, I am not privy to all the information about this situation. However, from all I’ve read, it would appear that the man deserted his post. In the days when I was in the military that would be called either AWOL or desertion."
Easter said he is also concerned about the release of what appears to be people who are among the worst in Guantanamo.
"I’m very much concerned that some day in the future, those people will come back to harm Americans, in particular American service men and women,” Easter said.
Harry Woodward, commander of the local DAV, echoed that sentiment. He said he is not speaking for the DAV in an official capacity, but said from what he has heard and read, it sounds like Bergdahl is a deserter.
“If he did desert he should be brought home and charged with desertion and serve his penalty for that like other deserters have," Woodward said. "And no, I do not think this was a good move in terms of the exchange. I don’t agree with it at all.”
Misty Garster is a former Navy corpsman who served two tours in Afghanistan, the first for 18 months, the second for four.
"Just speaking for myself, from the things I’ve read, he’s a deserter,” she said. “I don’t like it at all. We have a rule that we don’t negotiate with terrorists and yet that’s exactly what we did. We traded five people who are guilty of crimes against our people for a deserter.”