Monday, June 16, 2014

Uncomfortable questions
     The broad public attention being focused on the military service of Sgt. Bowe Burgdahl  may raise some uncomfortable questions for the Pentagon.  I noted in a previous blog entry that if Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with desertion, the Army may have to explain why it has more than 3,500 deserters per year over the past twelve years and does nothing to recover or punish those deserters.  The policy brings into question the leadership abilities and discipline of the service.  Additionally, it brings into question the financial stewardship of the Army as each soldier who deserts represents a substantial investment in training and recruitment costs.
     The Army may also have to explain why it would enlist a person in 2008 who just two years earlier was discharged from the Coast Guard, reportedly for "psychological reasons".  In 2008, at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army experienced severe recruiting difficulties and lowered enlistment standards.  Waivers were granted to enlistees in unprecedented numbers for criminal histories and behavioral and medical problems that should have disqualified them from service.  The decision to compromise standards was made at the highest levels of the Pentagon.
     Finally, Sgt. Bergdahl left his post on at least one other occasion before the incident that led to his capture.  There is no record of his having been disciplined for doing non-judicial action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  The Army just may have to explain why.  The answer may reflect a broader perspective of discipline in the Army as Courts Martial fell 30% from 2004 to 2013 and bad conduct discharges fell more than 20%.  Choosing bad soldiers over no soldiers is not without consequences.
     Army policies and institutional failures may have contributed to Sgt. Bergdahl's circumstances and need to be considered as pundits, politicians, and uniformed military bureaucrats judge not only Sgt. Bergdahl but also themselves while a nation of limited liability patriots looks on.

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