Local veterans react to Bergdahl release

APPLETON – Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. forces after five years in captivity. In return, five detainees were released from Guantanamo Bay.

The Taliban released a video of Bergdahl’s handover Wednesday.

His captors were heard warning him to never come back to Afghanistan; otherwise he won’t make it out alive.

But debate continues here in the U.S. about whether Bergdahl knowingly walked into danger.

Some former comrades say he walked off his military base unarmed in 2009.

The Army is reviewing the case, and defense secretary Chuck Hagel is asking for patience.

“Let’s first focus on getting Sgt. Bergdahl well, get his health back, get him reunified with his family. Let’s not forget Bergdahl is a member of the U.S. armed forces. He is a sergeant in the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army has and always will have responsibility for getting its soldiers back.”

But not everyone in Washington agrees with that.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin released a statement saying, “While we can be thankful for Bergdahl’s release and return, we also should be concerned about the release of high level, and highly dangerous members of the Taliban.”

But what do local veterans think of the matter?

At the American Legion Post 38 brat fry in Appleton Wednesday, opinions on the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were as plentiful as the brats and burgers on the grill.

“I did not think that was very fair at all,” said U.S. Army and Marine Corps veteran Don Eiden.

“I don’t agree with that to let five Taliban fighters loose again, to just get one American back, how many are we going to lose over that now,” added Tony Young of Appleton.

As Navy veteran Ray Gass worked the grill, he said no matter what, Sgt. Bergdahl needed to be brought home.

“Of course we needed to bring him home; we don’t want to leave anybody over there.”

But Gass says he has concerns about what the prisoner exchange will mean for the future.

“It’s just going to open us up for more, I feel that they are just going to try to take more prisoners and go through the same thing to get some more of the Taliban released and those are just murderers of American soldiers and we don’t need to release any more of them,” Gass said.

Others like Eiden think the president moved to quickly and should have informed Congress first.

“That was something that should have been run through the Congress and whoever the people were that are supposed to make the decision, he doesn’t just do these things on his own,” Eiden said.

And some wonder if the allegations about Sgt. Bergdahl possibly deserting his unit before being captured merit his release at all.

“If it’s true what they said, they shouldn’t have dealt anything for him to get him back to send five more guys back to kill Americans,” said Young.

Right now Bergdahl is at a military hospital in Germany. He is reported to be in stable condition.

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