(HAILEY, Idaho) — Controversy has surrounded newly freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl since his release from Taliban captivity, with some in the military, including members of his own unit, claiming he is a deserter, not a war hero.
But Sherry Horton knows a different Bergdahl than the one the world has come to see in the chilling proof of life videos the Taliban released.
“He’s a very interesting guy, he was very quiet, he was an observer,” Horton said.
Horton, the artistic director of Sun Valley Ballet in Idaho, said she was Bergdahl’s ballet teacher and later, she became his roommate in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, when he was about 18 or 19 years old. She describes Bergdahl as someone who was interested in mixed martial arts, culture, languages and learning new things.
“He was a wonderful [ballet] partner, all the girls enjoyed dancing with him because he was so strong and steady,” she said.
Horton said Bergdahl didn’t talk about Afghanistan much, and they more or less lost touch after he was deployed, but said he wanted to go.
“One of the reasons he joined [the army] was to go and help and he believed in what we were doing to help Afghan people,” she said. “He didn’t seem disillusioned or anything…nothing comes to mind that stood out at the time to make me think he wasn’t happy with what he was doing.”
After spending five years in Taliban captivity, Bergdahl was freed last weekend and is currently undergoing evaluation at an American military medical facility in Germany. But when news of Bergdahl’s release spread, several in the military, including his own platoonmates, expressed anger at the price the United States had to pay to get him back, both in the five mid- to high-level Taliban figures exchanged for him and in the effort and lives lost in ultimately fruitless searches for Bergdahl shortly after his 2009 capture.
“He knew what he was doing when he deserted us. It was premeditated. It was thought out,” said Spc. Cody Full. “He was not captured. He was not forcefully taken off the base. He left on his own accord… I don’t think someone who deserts during a time of war should be able to desert and get away with it.”
The Pentagon has never stated that Bergdahl walked off his base, noting that any inquiries into what happened were missing Bergdahl’s side of the story. An official investigation, classified “secret,” was opened but it was never completed, a Pentagon spokesperson said Tuesday.
Full, who was honorably discharged in November 2011, said he roomed with Bergdahl when they were stationed in Alaska before their deployment to Afghanistan. After deployment, Full said Bergdahl was in the room across from his in the building where his platoon was housed.
While in Alaska, Full said Bergdahl kept to himself mostly.
“We tried to involve him in team activities multiple times. Playing video games maybe drinking a few beers after work or on the weekends, barbecuing, doing things outside of work, as teammates and friends and platoonmates,” Full said. “The majority of the time he wasn’t interested.”
Then, after they were deployed, Full said Bergdahl started to openly criticize their mission.
“He voiced his concern to our team leader and multiple others a few times. He talked about how he didn’t understand why we were doing what we were doing and how we needed to do this or do that,” Full said.
A senior official told ABC News that it’s unclear how Bergdahl got off base the night in June 2009 when he disappeared and it’s still unclear how he came in contact with the Taliban. But the senior official said a note that Bergdahl left at his post before he walked away could help tell the story.
When Bergdahl was released, the White House praised the return of the soldier, but Full said he found Bergdahl’s hero’s welcome “frustrating.”
“There was real heroes over there that upheld their oath, swore by their oath, upheld their military procedures, followed orders, did what was expected of them when you become a member of the armed forces and some of them didn’t come home and he’s getting to come home and he’s not a hero,” he said. “Somebody that deserts is not a hero.”
Horton said she wasn’t surprised to hear his platoonmates’ feelings about Bergdahl and the controversy surrounding his release.
“It hurts because once again they don’t know him, they haven’t talked to him either so they are making–they are prejudging, so it’s hurtful,” she said. “One of the reasons why he wanted to join the army was because one of his really strong beliefs was our rights as Americans, freedom of speech…this is one of the things that was closest to Bowe, is that we have these rights.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
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