Grassroots Commentary


Norm McDonald · Jun. 9, 2014

I have strong feelings about this Bergdahl fiasco. Here is something coming from the angle of a old infantryman: betrayal…

A couple of days ago, I watched a video piece of Bowe Bergdahl’s platoon mates being interviewed. While listening and reading their body language, I was able to put myself into their perspective on the whole Taliban/Bergdahl swap. Although it was in a much earlier generation, I had the same MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as those men and Bergdahl. That MOS was 11B: Infantry, Dog Face, Foot Soldier; or what we called ourselves, and still do call ourselves, with pride – Grunts.

Yesterday, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times virtually blaming Bergdahl’s unit (platoon) for “causing” him to desert because of poor discipline. I was astounded at the utter lack of understanding the writer had about a unit in the Army and how it works. The piece was purely propaganda and frankly, nonsense. How many Americans will believe this could actually happen in an Infantry unit? But this is what they want you to believe; and at the same time, they want you to believe that anything these soldiers are saying is simply not true.

My war, the Vietnam War, was over 40 years ago – an unpopular war (is any war popular?) that most young people had problems with supporting, especially in the last years of the conflict. Those of us who were in the middle of it were no different than our peers outside the military as far as our personal feelings. Many of us were draftees who had little or no choice in whether we served or not. Our discipline was very much lacking because of the draft; most of us were simply displaced civilians. Avoiding military haircuts, complaining about the job and dissing officers and NCOs were the order of the day. Did we serve with honor even though we may not have been comfortable with the idea of being in Southeast Asia? I can answer this with a resounding: Yes, we did. I personally saw 20-year-old completely undisciplined draftees doing incredibly brave things that most folks will only see in the movies or their worst nightmares.

The Army in the 21st Century is an all-volunteer force of highly trained, motivated professional soldiers, hardly recognizable from what we were back in the proverbial stone age of technology and tactics. But there is something that is still exactly the same, particularly with the Grunts. We didn’t care about or really think about the vast geo-political consequences of what we were doing. With Grunts, there is only you and your platoon or even just your squad. The young men I saw in that interview were seeing in Bergdahl, only betrayal. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with why you are doing in that combat zone, only that the guy next to you has your back. As bad as the war was for me and the guys in my platoon and as unpopular as it was back home, it would have never occurred to any of us to leave the others for any reason. Did it happen in the Vietnam War? Of course, but did it happen in the Infantry? Probably, but so rare no one heard of it because it was the ultimate shame to leave your guys in the field. Bergdahl committed more than Army desertion to those Grunts I was watching on television that night; he betrayed a trust that is stronger than any I have ever experienced still in my 64 years of life. The trust of brothers who are bonded by life and death experiences. That bond is so strong it will never end for the rest of our lives.

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