Infamous US Deserter Keeps “Good Conduct Medal” for Same Period He Deserted & “Misbehaved Before the Enemy.” Newly Released Files Raise Question: Why Has Army Not Revoked Bowe Bergdahl’s Medals
Dec. 15, 2020 (Washington) Beaudry Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl was awarded and still holds an Army medal for “exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity” -- given for the same time period he deserted and endangered his fellow soldiers “through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct.”
Bergdahl’s military “personnel file,” obtained by Need to Share News under the Freedom of Information Act (see bottom), lists three Army Good Conduct Medals (AGCMs), raising questions about why he was awarded the medals in the first place and still apparently holds them, despite the service’s ability to revoke medals when subsequent information suggests they were wrongly awarded.
The personnel file also reveals Army officials declined a controversial request from Bergdahl’s lawyer to grant him the Prisoner of War Medal, for troops taken prisoner, and Purple Heart Medal, for being wounded in combat. That lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell, said he and his client have no comment on this report.
Privacy regulations limit Army comments on specific personnel records of soldiers, including Bergdahl. We asked the service if a soldier who received an AGCM for a period of time during which he violated military law could have the medal withdrawn. “The AGCM can be revoked by the soldier's current commander. If the soldier has separated from service, the AGCM can be revoked by the commander of Human Resources Command or by the Army Board for Corrections of Military Records,” said a representative of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command. “(It) is at the commander's discretion.”
Statistics do not exist on how often such medals are revoked and why, according to the Army. “It would be impossible to provide an accurate answer to this question, since this decision is made at individual units across the Army,” said the representative. One well-publicized recent case involves the Army stripping an officer charged with murder of his Special Forces “tab,” awarded to graduates of the Special Forces course, and Distinguished Service Cross, one of the highest awards for heroism in combat.
The revocation of Bergdahl’s medals might hold limited significance for him in comparison to nearly five years of brutal captivity in Taliban hands and eventual court-martial conviction. But the Army’s apparent inaction on the decorations may anger some soldiers from his unit who’ve been highly critical of Bergdahl’s behavior and the failure of the military to sentence him to prison. Those wounded searching for Bergdahl and the families of men killed in action soon after his desertion have also contended the military was too lenient. Just last year, Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen, shot in the head during the search Bergdahl intentionally triggered, died after long-term medical problems (read more here.)
AGCM’s are generally awarded after three-year periods of service by a “(s)oldier who distinguishes himself or herself from among his or her fellow Soldiers by their exemplary conduct, efficiency, and fidelity throughout a specified period of continuous enlisted active Federal military service,” according to Army regulations. In practice, the medal is widely awarded to soldiers in good standing. The personnel file shows Bergdahl received his first Good Conduct Medal for the stretch during which he received an Article 15 non-judicial punishment, shortly before his disappearance, and then deserted and “misbehaved before the enemy.” “Misbehavior Before the Enemy” under military law covers actions by a soldier “who before or in the presence of the enemy…through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property.”
The second medal covers years he was imprisoned, during which he did not collaborate with the enemy, according to military investigators. The Army also concluded Bergdahl had psychological issues and did not intend to defect to the Taliban, but instead left his outpost to create a “crisis” and prompt a major search and rescue operation. The third AGCM encompasses the phase of his enlistment when he returned to the US and was investigated, charged and faced court martial.
The most obvious issue is why Bergdahl was awarded an AGCM for the time he deserted and was then allowed to keep it, even after confessing to and being convicted of serious military crimes. Immediately after Bergdahl’s disappearance, members of his unit suspected the Idaho-native, who had complained about the Army and his leaders, had voluntarily left their isolated post. missing guard duty. Not long after, government officials told the media Bergdahl “just walked off” and by 2010 a secret Army investigation had uncovered “incontrovertible” evidence he had willingly abandoned his unit, according to the Associated Press. A year later Bergdahl was awarded a good conduct medal for this same period of service, the records indicate.
“The factors that would disqualify an individual from receiving the award are outlined in different regulations,” the Army explained. Under Army Regulation 600-8-22, cited by the Army representative, the AGCM may be withheld for factors including if a soldier: “Cannot follow orders; shirks responsibilities; takes too much time; is recalcitrant” and “(c)annot adapt to military life; (is) uncooperative; (or is) involved in frequent difficulties with fellow Soldiers.” Related regulations noted by the Army suggest soldiers Absent Without Leave (AWOL) for 96 or more hours might not be eligible for the AGCM and that “(i)ndividuals whose retention is not warranted under standards prescribed in AR 380 - 67 are not eligible for award of the AGCM.” This raises questions about whether the Army actually believed Bergdahl’s future retention as a soldier was still warranted, and therefore he was eligible for a third AGCM, even after his sworn admissions of improper conduct upon his return to the US.
In past cases involving possible deserters in enemy hands, the military has erred on the side of the soldiers during their captivity by, for example, promoting them, as the Army did Bergdahl, and foregoing negative personnel actions until their return to U.S. control allowed full investigations of their conduct. So we asked the service: If an individual who received an AGMC was later proven by an investigation to have committed serious violations of military law during his period of purported “Good Conduct,” could his medal be revoked? The answer: Army commanders could have revoked the medal(s) and still could.
Bergdahl returned home as part of a controversial prisoner swap by the Obama Administration, who traded him for top Taliban leaders in U.S. captivity, dubbed the “Taliban Five.” The enemy leaders were allowed to resettle in Qatar and ultimately rejoin the Taliban's political arm. Media reports indicated the release of the Taliban officials had been opposed by some U.S. military and intelligence officials. The deal also violated federal law, according to a report by the federal Government Accountability Office.
When the swap was announced, Obama Administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice (now headed to a senior role in the Biden Administration) claimed on national television that Bergdahl had "served the United States with honor and distinction.”
The current occupation and home of Bergdahl, now 34, are unclear, along with his progress in recovering from injuries sustained in captivity. His lawyer declined to comment.