U.S. Army soldiers who were serving with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when he left his post and wound up in the hands of the Taliban say no one has contacted them, even though military brass are currently conducting a new investigation into the case.
Several soldiers who immediately came forward after Bergdahl was released on May 31, in a swap for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, have accused the 28-year-old Idaho native of deserting. But even though the Army is probing that very charge, investigators have not reached out to at least two former Army sergeants – including the platoon’s leader – who served alongside Bergdahl on June 30, 2009, when he disappeared from his post in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
“There’s only a handful of us who were actually there and we haven’t been contacted yet,” former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow told FoxNews.com. “I don’t really know how in-depth they’re trying to get here. I thought we’d be some of the people they’d call. I think they have their mind made up already on what they want people to know.”
Army officials announced last week that a two-star general, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, is conducting a new investigation to examine whether Bergdahl went AWOL or deserted his post. Legally, a deserter has no intention of returning to his or her post, while a soldier who goes AWOL intends to rejoin. The probe won’t begin until Bergdahl’s reintegration process is complete, and Dahl’s recommendations will ultimately be sent to the director of the Army staff, who could then approve or alter them before forwarding to Bergdahl’s commander.
For Buetow, who is now working in law enforcement after leaving the Army in 2012, the answer to the key question of the investigation remains unchanged.
“I think it’s very clear he deserted his post,” Buetow told FoxNews.com. “He thought about what he was doing, he mailed some things home, he walked away and we have witnesses who saw him walking away. And if you’re walking away in one of the worst, most dangerous areas of Afghanistan without your weapon and gear, I don’t believe you’re planning on coming back.”
Former Army Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s unit, told FoxNews.com he has also not been contacted by Army officials since the announcement of the new probe, but acknowledged that sworn statements of nearly every soldier in contact with Bergdahl in 2009 undoubtedly still exist.
“I have confidence that they’re going to do what’s right,” Vierkant said. “I just feel this should’ve happened a long time ago and it should’ve been public.”
Vierkant vehemently maintains that Bergdahl deserted his unit, taking little more than his notebook, a compass, some water and maybe his camera before walking away.
“The most important factor isn’t necessarily why he did it or what made him do it,” Vierkant said. “The most important factor is that he did do it – for whatever reason. That’s enough in my mind to do a court-martial, bring him up under several different charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Vierkant said he expects only more damaging evidence to surface regarding Bergdahl during this latest probe, including proof of his intent or even collaboration with insurgents while in captivity. U.S. officials have said Bergdahl was largely held in Pakistan by members of the Haqqani network, which has close ties to the Taliban. Bergdahl is now receiving outpatient care at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and has reportedly ventured off base several times as part of his reintegration process.
If Army officials determine Bergdahl deserted his troops, Buetow said he should be court-martialed, demoted and dishonorably discharged. Bergdahl was a “good soldier,” someone to be trusted in the trenches, Buetow said, but something was always slightly off with the quiet infantryman.
“He was always on time, always had the gear he had to have and he studied more than any other soldier I’ve ever had,” he said. “He was odd though. He was very quiet, didn’t watch TV, studied about four languages, and didn’t want to go out with the guys. He kind of isolated himself, but not in a way that would be concerning. And no one pushed him away.”
Buetow said it was no surprise that Bergdahl – who asked “endless questions” about protocol and military tactics – was the soldier who was gone when Army brass realized he was missing.
“The fact that he walked away and the fact that he was the one who was gone wasn’t surprising,” Buetow said. “I remember it got called out that Bergdahl had left the bunker and I looked over at my buddy Cody Full and we looked at each other and said, ‘He’s gone, he’s gone.'”
Army officials told FoxNews.com that, in general, the investigating officer in such a probe will review any materials that are provided.
“The investigating officer will come up with an investigative plan, figure out which witnesses he or she needs to talk to in order to complete the investigation, and interview those witnesses,” Army spokeswoman Alayne Conway wrote in an email. “I have not seen the list of individuals, so can’t comment on who specifically the investigating officer will talk with nor the total number of personnel he will talk with. We don’t provide that level of detail while an investigation is ongoing.”
Buetow, meanwhile, questioned why he hasn’t yet received a phone call from investigators.
“They’ve already concluded what they want to be said,” he said of Army leaders. “They know exactly what happened.”