Controversy over the prisoner exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — and over allegations he abandoned his Afghanistan post — has brought blowback on businesses in Hailey, Bergdahl’s hometown.
The Hailey Chamber of Commerce has received hundreds of phone calls from people angry that the community had planned a June 28 “Bowe is Back” celebration for a possible deserter, Chamber Membership Director Kristy Heitzman said. The Chamber wasn’t organizing or sponsoring “Bowe is Back” but promoted the event on its Facebook page, she said.
Organizers cancelled the event midday Wednesday.
Some of the angry callers are veterans, Heitzman said. One angry caller said he was a trucker saying he would make sure to stop in Hailey to dump off his trash, she said.
“They say we’re kind of a disgrace, or what a shame it is to have a celebration for a traitor,” Heitzman said. “They say they had planned on coming to the area to go fishing or camping, but now they won’t be coming to Idaho.”
Heitzman said that several hotels in the area received room cancellations from travelers upset by the Bergdahl situation. She also said city hall and the Hailey Police Department also received many angry calls.
The national criticism and media attention caught the town of about 8,000 residents off guard, Heitzman said.
“Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think anybody anticipated this much of a blowback,” she said. “We thought it would be like (Olympic gold medalist and Hailey native) Kaitlyn Farrington coming back from the Olympics. We thought it was somebody coming home.”
Managers at two Hailey hotels, the Inn at Ellsworth Estates and the Wood River Inn, declined to comment. Sun Valley Resort, located at about 14 miles north of Hailey, hasn’t received any complaints or cancellations stemming from the Bergdahl news, resort spokeswoman Shannon Besoyan said.
The Meadows RV Park, which is nine miles north of Hailey, also hasn’t received complaints or cancellations, manager Debra Adams said.