WASHINGTON — Three former members of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s platoon spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday about Bergdahl’s disappearance, his freedom and how he should be treated now that he’s out. The interviews were facilitated by a public relations firm, Capitol Media Partners, co-owned by Republican strategist Richard Grenell. All three men said Bergdahl should be investigated for desertion. Army Secretary John McHugh said Tuesday that after Bergdahl has recovered, the Army will “review” the circumstances of his disappearance.
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Joshua Cornelison, 25, who was a medic in the platoon:
Cornelison said Bergdahl was unusually reluctant to talk to fellow soldiers about his personal life or his background.
“He was very, very quiet. He kept everything very close to the vest,” Cornelison said, speaking from Sacramento, California. “So, after he actually left, the following morning we realized we have Bergdahl’s weapon, we have Bergdahl’s body armor, we have Bergdahl’s sensitive equipment (but) we don’t have Bowe Bergdahl.” At that point, Cornelison said, it occurred to him that Bergdahl was “that one guy that wanted to disappear, and now he’s gotten his wish.”
Cornelison, who completed his Army service in 2012, said he believes Bergdahl should be held accountable.
“Bowe Bergdahl needs to be held 100 percent accountable for all of his irresponsibility and all of his actions. He willfully deserted his post and he needs to be held accountable for that,” he said.
Evan Buetow, 27, who was a sergeant in the platoon:
Buetow, speaking from Maple Valley, Washington, said Bergdahl had asked him a number of questions a short time before his disappearance that, in retrospect, make it apparent that Bergdahl had been planning to leave.
Bergdahl asked him, for example, how much of a cash advance he could get and how to go about mailing home his personal computer and other belongings. He also asked what would happen if his weapon and other sensitive items such as night vision goggles went missing. He said he told Bergdahl that, as any soldier would know, that would be “a big deal.”
“At the time … it wasn’t really alarming” to hear Bergdahl ask about those things, Buetow said. “Yes, it was a kind of off-the-wall question,” but the notion of a fellow soldier running off during the night seemed so far-fetched as to not be possible, he said.
Buetow said he feels strongly that Bergdahl should face trial for desertion, but he said it is less clear that he should be blamed for the deaths of all soldiers killed during months of trying to find him. Beutow said he knows of at least one death on an intelligence-directed infantry patrol to a village in search of Bergdahl. More broadly, the mission of his entire unit changed after Bergdahl’s disappearance because it began to incorporate efforts to pursue clues to his whereabouts.
“Those soldiers who died on those missions, they would not have been where they were … if Bergdahl had never walked away,” he said. “At the same time I do believe it is somewhat unfair for people to say, ‘It is Bergdahl’s fault that these people are dead.’ I think that’s a little harsh.”
Matt Vierkant, 27, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was a team leader of another squad in Bergdahl’s platoon.
He’s now out of the military and studying mechanical engineering.
Soldiers from his unit and other units were wounded or killed on missions to chase down leads related to Bergdahl, he said.
Asked about the statement Sunday by National Security Adviser Susan Rice that Bergdahl served “with honor and distinction,” he said: “That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t know if she was misinformed or doesn’t know about the investigations and everything else, or what.”
He said Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers knew within five or 10 minutes from the discovery of disappearance that he had walked away. In retrospect the signs were there, he said, but there was nothing so definitive that would have prompted action.
“He said some strange things, like, ‘I could get lost in those mountains,’ which, at the time, that doesn’t really strike you as someone who is going to leave their weapon and walk out.”
Vierkant said he believes it’s paramount that an investigation determine whether Bergdahl deserted or collaborated with the enemy.
“It shouldn’t even be a question of whether, it should question of when,” he said.
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