“Son, your mother and I tried to talk you out of enlisting, remember?”
“I do, Pa.”
“Now things are a lot worse, Boy. I mean, where can you go? Just everyone hates you.”
Reid hung his head down, the features of his handsome, boyish face sagging under the weight of guilt and remorse. “I…I don’t know anymore, Pa. I mean, I don’t know how everything went so wrong.”
Ed Martin put his hand on his son’s shoulder. He could feel his body shaking, knowing inside his son was crying.
It had been a long journey. For the longest time, all Reid Martin wanted to do was serve his country. Raised in a small town in rural Idaho, he and his two best friends planned to enlist in the Army once they graduated high school. But when they finally did, Tommy got a job at the sawmill and proposed to his steady girl and Rob took all the money he’d saved up working after school and on weekends and left to “see the country.”
Reid thought they were traitors and cowards. He’d show them. He’d join up and be a hero. He could hardly imagine that one day he’d be branded the same as he did his childhood buddies.
Thirty-two days into his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was in an outpost near the village of Yaya Kheyl. Another night of guard duty, but it wasn’t just another night. Less than twelve hours before, his best friend in the outfit Ben Richardson had been killed when an IED exploded directly under his SUV.
“How the hell can they take it? How can they all act like it doesn’t matter? It could be one of them next. Hell, it could be me? What the fuck was I thinking?”
“What’s that, Private?”
“Nothing, Sarge.” Damn Martin’s luck. Sergeant Fry happened to be walking by and the Private hadn’t realized he was muttering out loud.
“Nothing’s good, Martin. Keep your flap shut and your eyes open.”
Fry walked off and after his back was turned, Martin gave him the finger. “Asshole,” he whispered figuring even Fry’s fox-like ears wouldn’t hear him.
Six hours later when Private Brian Hudson went to relieve Martin, Reid was nowhere to be found.
“What the fuck? What the fuck?”
“It’s what we got from the locals, Lieutenant Saunders. Martin was captured sometime last night. They claim he just walked away from his post and off the base.”
“Goddamnit, Sarge.” The Lieutenant paused to let himself calm down. “Alright, Fry. Initiate a DUSTWUN search. We need to get Martin back from those bastards.”
Five years later, thanks to the tireless efforts of President Barack Obama and the release of five confirmed Arab terrorists by the U.S. government, Private Reid Edward Martin was released from Taliban captivity to a hero’s welcome…which was all too short-lived.
Sergeant Martin was formally charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Two soldiers had been killed and a third permanently disabled due to a brain injury in attempts to rescue Martin from the Taliban. It was tragically disappointing to their families when the Military Court presiding over his court-martial dismissed the misbehavior charge, gave Martin a dishonorable discharge, fined him $10,000, but did not sentence him to any prison time.
With five years of back pay while in captivity plus what he had earned in the Army since his return to the States, Reid Martin now sat on the sofa in his parents’ living room staring at the floor wondering what he would do next.
“What the hell should we do with him now, Aazar. All he does is stare at the dirt floor of his cell, sitting in his own piss and shit. He won’t move. He won’t eat. We beat him and he just falls over. He might as well be dead.”
“He’s no use to us now, Shahmeer. The fucking Americans want to rescue a hero or at least a sympathetic martyr, not a man so completely broken that he craps himself like a baby. The American President would be crazy to trade our comrades for this piece of shit. Take him out and shoot him, then bury his stinking corpse. And clean this place up after that. I can’t stand the smell of him anymore.”
In his mind, Reid Martin was still sitting the house he grew up in, broken and disgraced but finally, finally at home. Ma and Pa loved him no matter what he’d done. He could stay with them until he figured out what to do next. He was still thinking it over as his Ma made his favorite chicken soup in the kitchen. He thought it smelled delicious right up until the bullet entered his brain.
Yes, the story is grim and I’m sure you realized I’m processing the recent verdict of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. No, I don’t wish Bergdahl dead, but I don’t see that justice has been done either.
One of my sons served two tours of duty in the Marines and was honorably discharged. Most men and women who serve in the military have a difficult time. Some are wounded. Some are killed. A lot of them come home to find that they are reviled by civilians, rejected by fellow Americans who are ungrateful and uncomprehending of their service and sacrifice for this nation.
I haven’t walked in Bowe Bergdahl’s shoes, so I don’t know what he went through. Maybe five years of torture at the hands of the Taliban was enough punishment for one lifetime. All I know is that my son is the same age as Bergdahl and he went through the same hell without walking away from his duty. Today, he has a home and two loving children. Today, he has a future. But God help him, Bowe Bergdahl only has a past.