(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) — Capt. John Billings, the platoon leader who was Bowe Bergdahl’s commanding officer before Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan, testified on Thursday, saying how soldiers spent weeks searching for him.
The testimony comes as Bergdahl faces a hearing to determine whether he should face a military tribunal over his charges of desertion over the 2009 incident, which military officials said led to his being captured by the Taliban. Bergdahl has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Should the case be referred to a court martial, he could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Maj. Margaret Kurz, who was leading the prosecution, said that Bergdahl showed deliberate disregard for his unit by leaving his post.
“He was intending to draw attention to himself,” she said during the hearing Thursday at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
Bergdahl, who was returned to the U.S. as part of a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, was present in court but said little.
He looked down for much of the first portion of the hearing, responding “Yes, sir” when he was asked a question during his defense’s opening statement.
The first witness who was called after both sides made their opening statements was Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s platoon leader. He said that his first impression of Bergdahl was that he was a great soldier.
He then described how intense the searches were for Bergdahl, and how they increased from one per day to several each day.
“I was exhausted mentally and physically,” Billings said.
Billings told his soldiers they must “exhaust all means and do everything we have to do to find Bergdahl.”
“This is absolutely the most important thing they will ever have to do in their life,” Billings said. “I was defeated. For the first time in my career I had lost a soldier.”
“I felt almost as if I had failed my men,” he added.
The prosecution indicated the disappearance was premeditated, noting that Bergdahl had emailed his girlfriend, saying “be prepared and expect something.”
The hearing is ongoing.
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