In the first episode of Serial 2 titled DUSTWUN, Sarah Koening, our host, introduces the audience to this season’s focus: Bowe Bergdal – a US soldier held captive by the taliban for five years before his release. A modest introduction if there ever was one, because Bergdal case of capture was anything but. From how he was captured to the terms of his release and the fall out of his return, Bowe Bergdal had become the protagonist of an ever evolving narrative concerning much more than himself.
So, how was Bergdal captured in the first place? Well, he simply walked off of his outpost, but not because he wanted to. Bergdal had felt it was imperative that he left the outpost, if not, the possibility of his fellow soldiers dying only grew. According to Bergdal, the leadership at OP Mest, his outpost, was so dire that the safety of the platoon was compromised in addition to the bleakness that was OP Mest. When asked to describe OP Mest, most soldiers only had the worst to say. Jon Thurman, a soldier in the same company but different platoon than Bergdal, claimed, “it’s probably the worst place humanly imaginable,” remembering the “extremely low” quality of life there. “Everybody pretty much got some sort of GI [gastrointestinal] illness…. because we couldn’t keep things clean enough. We didn’t have the resources.” (Jon Thurman, Serial 2, Ep 1) If the conditions of OP Mest had deteriorated as far as mostly everyone seemed to claim, why hadn’t reported it yet?
From the outside looking in, the simplest solution to the problem that was OP Mest would have been to submit a report detailing the events occuring there. But Bergdal had already thought this action through dismissing it for its absurdity. “As a private first class, nobody is going to listen to me,” explained Bergdel to Mark Boal, the filmmaker interviewing him, “Nobody is going to take me serious if I say an investigation needs to put under way”. So, surpassing every customary solution, Bergdel jumps to extremes and causes a DUSTWUN.
DUSTWUN – duty status whereabouts unknown – was the signal alerted over the radio when a soldier happened to go missing or in Bergdal’s circumstances– captured. But Bergdal had never planned on getting captured or even leaving for as long of a period as he did. By causing a DUSTWUN, Bergdal had intended to trigger a disruption large enough to gain the attention of the head of the chain of command, simultaneously bringing awareness to the dreadful conditions of OP Mest and the horrendous leadership that had caused it. But events didn’t occur as he had planned.
Paraphrased by Sarah Koening in reference to Bergdal’s plan, “when he reappears,” becuase Bergdal had originally planned on walking off, disappearing, but ultimately returning. It would have been, “such a big deal. There’ll be such a commotion. Everyone will want to know why he left and why he’s back. And so he’ll be able to get an audience with whomever he wants—a general, even—and they won’t be able to ignore his complaints.” But Bergdal didn’t return. After setting his plan in motion, only 20 minutes walking distance away, Bergdal had realized how in over his head he really was. That once he returned, he would be in serious trouble, but not as bad if he had an excuse – like finding out curial information about the enemy. So changing route, Bergdal basically set off looking for trouble where it eventually found him in the form of the taliban.
And in so few words, Bergdal was captured.
But if all had gone well from the beginning, would Bergdal’s plan had actually worked? No, not in my opinion. There were too many unknown variables with a risk factor greater than the reward he sought after. By leaving his outpost unannounced, Bergdal had basically put himself on trial as a deserter. No matter his reasoning, his narrative would forever be framed as a coward, a betrayer, an unpatriotic american. No matter what Bergdal did, even if his plan had been successful, he would now and forever be the enemy.
Intentions and outcomes aside, was Bergdal even fit enough to cover the distance required to get from his OP Mest outpost to the army base at FOB Sharana, 20 miles aways. Most probably, considering soldiers are trained to handle uninhabitable conditions. But even the strongest soldier wouldn’t be able to fend off a group of armed taliban. Again, there were too many unknown variables to prepare for.
Personally, I wouldn’t have even left the base because if I did, I would have been vulnerable to not only the taliban but also the elements. I would have tried for a more practical solution.