The news that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned to active duty on Monday, just six week after he was released from Taliban captivity, was generally met with dismay. Twitter users wondered why a “traitor” was being allowed to serve in the military, and the family members of a solider killed while searching for Bergdahl said they were “furious.” “This is another attempt to give credibility to a deserter to protect the decision to free five extremely dangerous Taliban,” Sondra Andrews, mother of 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, told NBC News. However, while the Army framed Bergdahl’s new status in a positive light, saying he is “a normal soldier now,” the move might just be a prelude to disciplining the 28-year-old for desertion.
The Army said Bergdahl has “completed the final phase of the integration process” in Texas, where he was treated by military doctors. Since we learned just two weeks ago that Bergdahl was beginning to make supervised excursions to grocery stores and restaurants, many questioned whether he was ready to return to a full-time position. The Army said that Bergdahl “can contribute to the mission” in his new post, but it doesn’t sound very demanding. He’s been assigned a desk job at the headquarters of U.S. Army North, which oversees domestic defense, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
Bergdahl is not under any restrictions and can “participate in the same on- and off-post opportunities as any other soldier,” according to Army North spokesman Don Manuszewski. Though, he isn’t being completely cut loose. He’ll live in barracks with other soldiers “who are providing leadership and guidance.” CNN reports that Bergdahl will also have a “sponsor” to help him adjust to military life, which Manuszewski said is routine for those new to the post. Officials said he’s also likely to receive some leave time while serving in his new position.
An Army spokeswoman noted that the “investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the disappearance and capture of Bergdahl is still ongoing,” which may actually be the reason he was put back on active duty. At the moment, Bergdahl has not been formally accused of any misconduct, and experts say he needs to be on regular duty for that process to move forward. “In order to charge him or deal with him in the military justice system, he needs to be a uniformed and serving member of the Armed Forces,” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who sits on the House Armed Services Committee told the Washington Times. Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army officer who teaches at South Texas College of Law agreed in an interview with Northwest Public Radio. “Once he is discharged from the military, they can’t bring him back involuntarily – to, for example, if they wanted to court martial him,” Corn explained. “They would lose jurisdiction over him. So, they’ve got to keep him retained in the military until they make that decision.”
Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren countered that “We’ve said from the beginning that the ultimate goal of reintegration is to return a soldier to active duty in the Army.” But the next step for Bergdahl is to be interviewed by Major General Kenneth Dahl, who is investigating the circumstances of his disappearance from his base in Afghanistan in 2009. He’s expected to finish his probe in August, and make recommendations about possible disciplinary action.
It seems Bergdahl is aware that returning to active duty brings him one step closer to possible charges. While he’s refused to talk with his parents for unknown reasons, he’s reportedly hired a private lawyer who will be with him when he’s questioned by Army investigators.