Bowe Bergdahl

Captured Idaho soldier Bowe Bergdahl in national spotlight

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Army.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Army. AP

This story was originally published July 22, 2009.

An Idaho soldier is at the center of a local and national media frenzy after his capture last month by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But one Idaho Air Force chaplain with experience counseling military families says the debate over how Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl became a hostage is "useless."

"You just have to wait for the truth," said retired Chaplain Maj. Tom Westall of Mountain Home. "He is still an American soldier and he deserves our support and our belief." Reports conflict about whether Bergdahl, 23, left the base near Pakistan willingly or was kidnapped, and details are scarce.

National pundits have bickered over whether the Hailey soldier is a hostage doing what he must to survive - as argued in a New York Daily News opinion piece - or a collaborator and deserter, as suggested by Fox News analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters.

The people who know Bergdahl best are remaining quiet. His parents have declined to speak publicly, asking that people respect their privacy. On Tuesday, they released a statement saying they appreciate and take comfort in the vast support received in recent days from President Barack Obama, Idaho's congressional delegation, other political leaders, friends and neighbors.

Bergdahl's parents are likely in a state of "sheer fear," Westall said. "This will be the greatest test of faith, and they are going to have to pace themselves for a long ordeal."

If Bergdahl is rescued, he'll likely face the same "extreme guilt" Vietnam hostages and POWs experienced after breaking under torture, Westall said. But today, the military understands that service members will say what they need to say to survive modern warfare.

"The code of conduct used to be name, rank and serial number only," Westall said. "Everybody broke; it's just a matter of how much they could take. Now the regulation reads, you take as much as you can take, and when you can't take any more you give information."

An Idaho Guard spokesman referred questions about Bergdahl to U.S. Central Command. Calls placed to that public relations line Tuesday evening were not answered.