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02 June 2014


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Bill H

Obama says that, even if he deserted, such charges should not be pursued because "he has suffered enough." Would you concur that captivity is sufficient punishment for desertion and that we should let it go? I think I know the answer.

I know you will challenge me to man up and offer my opinion so, no, I don't. I suspect his imprisonment if convicted would be more than five years in any case.


Bill H

If we had re-captured a man who had deserted to the Germans and who had been held by them until recovered by us I think we certainly would have tried him for desertion and I think that would be justified. When the war in VN ended in the armistice of 1973, I was asked to stay behind, assigned to the attache office in the embassy to head a team to hunt for and re-capture US servicemen who had deserted to the enemy. There were about 15 who were known to be serving with VC units. The most infamous of these was a pair of marines who were nicknamed "salt and pepper" for the obvious reason. we sure as hell were going to try them if we had captured them. I declined the offer and went home in spite of Barbed Wire Bob Kingston's best effort to persuade. We should find out if this guy voluntarily deserted to the enemy. Whether or not he was happy with his new home with them is irrelevant. This is both a judicial and a disciplinary matter for the armed forces, Obama's statement is "undue command influence." pl

nick b


Is there a distinction made between desertion and defection?


Continuing from the other thread, a friend of mine who was a squad leader in Bergdahl's platoon told me that he was the type of guy who made you pucker whenever higher higher showed up unexpectedly because you never knew what he would say or do, and he didn't seem to understand why they'd be mad at him afterwards.


The WAPO article states, quoting a prior published report: "... deaths and wounding of several U.S. soldiers to the search for Bergdahl and asserted that the frequency of enemy ambushes and improvised explosive devices increased after he was gone."

The president says " "he has suffered enough." ? How many were injured or killed because of Bergdahl's irresponsible and illegal conduct? It appears Obama was foolish enough to imply that those deaths and injuries were okay because some junior nco abandoned his duty. Yes this is clearly a disciplinary matter for the armed forces.

Hank Foresman

I think all in the Chain of Command should shut their pie holes! I am glad we got him back, I would have done the same, if he deserted he should be tried and assigned whatever judgment the Court deems appropriate to include the death penalty (See Article 85 Manual of Courts Martials).


" I declined the offer and went home in spite of Barbed Wire Bob Kingston's best effort to persuade."

I wonder, did he find somebody who took the offer?



this is not the kind of thing you ask about. I knew Kingston well later and he never said anything about it and he remembered me from that time. Kingston was a real tough hombre, interesting that he wanted me to do this. pl



I don't think Bergdahl was an NCO then. pl



My search through the jungle for these guys would have had an "Apocalypse Now" aura. i would have had unlimited funds so I suppose I would have bought them from the VC. After that... pl

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

A possibly fantastical speculation: he might have thought that the job, if it was to be done at all, required toughness, imagination, and and an ability to keep one's mouth shut.


Does anyone have a source for Obama saying Bergdahl had suffered enough? This is the full transcript of Obama's remarks. It seems to me he goes out of his way to praise everyone except Bergdahl:


Also from AP:

"A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press on Saturday that the Army would make the decision on any charges, but the feeling at the moment was that he had suffered enough in his ordeal."

I don't think the guy is out of the woods.


I may have encountered "salt and pepper" in May/June of 1969. D 1/5, the company I was attached to as an FO (Jim Webb was a platoon commander), had our point element ambushed as we were moving up into the mountains just east of An Hoa combat base. I was about half-way back in the column, but could clearly see the point element across the draw we were moving through. As firing broke out we could see some of the ambushers and a machine gunner (“wild man”) behind me opened up on what I though were a couple of our point Marines. When I questioned his targeting, he continued and pointed out to me the two "marines" he was targeting had packs on - which was not the case with our patrol that day. The morning after this occurred division G-2 staff flew in and had the troops that had been on point review a "picture book" of deserters. This is the ambush that described in and that is the basis of the storyline in Jim Webb's novel "Lost Soldiers" - where he names the two deserters as "salt and pepper".


David Habakkuk

I suppose enough time has passed. I may have told you this. i went to Kingston's headquarter in Tampa to be out briefed for something in the ME and none of the staff wanted to talk to me. This was in 1979. i stopped by his office. He had a crusty old SF warrant officer for an MA. I just wanted the guy to initial my papers so I could go to the airport and get out of there. the CWO looked at the junk hung or sewed on my soldier suit and went into the inner holy of holys and returned with BWB who was reading "field and Stream" in a tee shirt and jump boots. "Lang! What are you doing in this goddam nuthouse?" he asked. The three of us went into General Kingston's office. The CWO brought in Bourbon and glasses. We sat around drinking it neat for an hour while discussing what i was going to do and then the Chief drove me to the airport, as steady as he could be. Kingston was a hell of a mensch. For marines, he was a lot like Puller. There is a chapter on him in "Masters of the Art of Command." He stopped by to see me in SA when I was DATT there and he was touring as CINCCENT. A hell of a guy. pl

Old Gun Pilot

When I was "in country" in '67-'68 there were rumors of deserters fighting with the NVA or VC such as "Salt & Pepper" or "the Phantom Blooker", but all of the services denied the rumors. The "official" position was these were Russian advisors. With the passage of time, what is the official position of the services now ? Have any turn coats been identified?



I know not. I was asked to stay and hunt them. Their heads would have made nice trophies. pl

The Twisted Genius

At this point, all I can see is that Bergdahl left the outpost without permission. I don't know if he intended to go AWOL, desert or return by morning. The Taliban made that decision moot. He is clearly guilty of committing a monumentally stupid act. Once he is treated, he should be hauled before his company commander (everybody in the Army has a company commander), charged with desertion, read his rights and be required to explain himself. The Army can take it from there. I wouldn't be inclined to throw the book at him after five years with the Taliban, but I'm just an old softy.


So is there any teeth to the current chatter that the President broke the law by unilaterally making this decision w/o consultation?

John Minnerath

There's supposed to be written law requiring 30 days notice to the Congress before such actions.
Our CiC and his camp followers seem to think they're always somehow beyond such restrictions.


I'm with you TG. "Desertion", in a legal sense, I think it fair to say, is a state of mind. What some 23 y.o., a veteran of at least two deployments (Iraq, I think was his first)...who knows what he was thinking at the moment before capture. I'd cut him slack.

On the other hand, if vengeance is 'in the air', why stop with him? How about Slam Dunk Tenant for friggin criminal malfeasance?? Or 'interrogation guys' at some of the black sites? Or the neo-cons and R2Ps, with their-go-along AAPAC asskissers that got us into the mess the nation now finds itself in? Or do they get a pass, but not some 23 y.o. dope?


Obama claims the right to do what he did based on a signing statement he "attached" to a defense bill in December, 2013:

"The White House says the 30-day notice provision does not apply in this case, because officials believe it wrongly ties the hands of the President. In a "signing statemnt" attached to the defense bill when it was signed into law in December of 2013, the President said he would not follow Section 1035: "The executive branch must have the flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers," the explanation said."


A continuation of the unitary executive clap-trap pioneered by our previous prez.



""Desertion", in a legal sense, I think it fair to say, is a state of mind." What kind of crap is that? This bozo evidently plotted to desert his comrades, his unit and the Army. I don't give a damn what his state of mind was. Six US paratroopers died while searching for this guy. Are you seriously taking the position that young soldiers are children who are not responsible for their actions? At the risk of self-reference, when I was 22 I had 44 heavily armed men under my command. Was I not responsible for my actions? http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/dempsey-army-may-still-pursue-desertion-charges-107363.html pl


Speaking for Germany:
In a conversation a while ago, a colleague voiced astonishment over the fact that someone in Germany who chose to serve his conscription in a civil function instead of the army would be punished as harshly for going AWOL as somebody serving in the army.

She did see the point when I explained that both are equivalent duties, and that a double standard would be unjustifiable because it would privilege those not serving in the army.

Still, I was getting silence in response. Apparently she felt it was still, somehow, unfair. I don't.


Short of proof that he aided and abetted the enemy..and such proof may very well be coming, I stand by my position. Regards who died trying to rescue him. Lets wait till the omnipresent froth of the 24/7 hype cycle is over. There are ALLEGATIONS these things happened in the search. They may be valid ones. I am not going to believe anything that comes out when the frothing starts. Not on this...not on any subject anymore.

If it can be proven that he plotted to desert then charge him with desertion. I serve as JAG bringing the case against if they want an old man. But for right now, I say we got a 23 y.o. dope. Maybe stoned on dope. Who knows? You were a 22 y.o. man. Being 22 back then, and being 22 now are somewhat different things. That is not an excuse. I repeat my wording, if it can be proved then charge. My argument, my legal argument is, he left his post, was captured, or, at least fell, into enemy hands and was held for 5 years. And that is ALL i know for sure. Intent is an element, a legal element of the charge. What can I say, it is. That simple.

I'm sorry Col, but with all the Mother F's who committed many crimes to suck Americans into supporting this war, who fought it incompetently, despite the tremendous bravery and noble sacrifice of our military and intell units, and their families, while others made A TON of money (or put bumper stickers on their cars) on this debacle, that induced the greatest tactical defeats the military has suffered since Kasserine Pass, I hold more contempt for that for some situation I know little for sure about.I stand by that.

Charles I

Thought I saw SecDef on tv musing he'd suffered enough.

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