HAILEY - Many people across the country and in Bowe Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey are conflicted on whether his sentence was an appropriate punishment or not.
A military judge in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, ruled on Friday that Sgt. Bergdahl will not spend any time in prison for abandoning his post in Afghanistan. Bergdahl will be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank to the lowest level of private (E-1) and will forfeit $1,000 a month for the next 10 months.
That punishment goes into effect immediately, with the exception of the dishonorable discharge, which triggered an automatic appeal. If confirmed, however, Bergdahl would be stripped if medical and other benefits.
KTVB’s Morgan Boydston spent the day in Hailey and spoke to a number of locals - some who know the Bergdahls and some who have just been following this situation since day one.
Overall, reactions in Hailey appear mixed.
“I just think everyone has a lot of mixed emotions about it,” one longtime resident, Perry Binder, said.
Many people in Hailey tell us are relieved this chapter is closed, and a number of people are feeling grateful for the outcome.
“It’s like everybody has been set free today,” one woman who wanted to remain anonymous told KTVB.
“I am so relieved, so incredibly relieved that Bowe was let off I think that is absolutely fair.”
“I think everyone is relieved it’s over and it’s done, and we can all move on. Including his family,” Binder said.
But many feel disappointment - and even disgust - in what some see as too lenient of a punishment.
“In just talking to a few people I think it’s split 50-50 between those who felt he should’ve had jail time and others that said the decision was correct,” Binder added.
“I think it’s the best outcome,” one woman who’s lived in Hailey 28 years said. “I think a dishonorable discharge is absolutely deserving.”
Since 2009, the community has been impacted in one way or another by Bowe Bergdahl. Locals have felt so many emotions as the story has unfolded and the process has played out on the national stage.
“We’ve had the yellow ribbons out, we’ve had the bracelets contributing to funds to support his legal case, to look for him to begin with, just to bring him home,” the woman who wanted to remain anonymous said.
As more information and details came to light over the years, some people’s support turned sour.
“When he was first captured they had yellow ribbons on all the trees up and down the main streets here and everyone was 100 percent for him. Until the story, the true story came out, all the other issues involved,” Binder said.
KTVB crews have been in Hailey multiple times over the last eight years talking to community members and trying to understand their feelings, starting with Bowe’s abandonment and subsequent capture.
“When I first heard about the capture I said, ‘My God, this guy is an idiot to abandoned his post.' And I felt pretty bad, of course, about the people that had to go rescue him and their injuries and everything else. And then when I saw when Obama made the exchange I felt pretty bad about that as well,” Binder added.
“The whole story about other military getting hurt looking for him was distressing. What he went through was horrifying and I feel that, truthfully, if he was to be put in jail it would be a total injustice. He’s been through too much,” Denise Delisser told KTVB. “ I haven’t spoken to that many people about it but the few I have spoken with feel the same way. He does not deserve to go to jail.”
Some tell us Bergdahl’s desertion and capture cast a dark cloud over the city of Hailey for a while. Many people we spoke with didn’t want to go on camera, but tell us the town doesn’t really talk about it anymore; they say they’ve distanced themselves from it all or they want nothing to do with it.
“I think no one is going to run away from him when they see him but I don’t see people rushing up to him and hugging him and welcoming him. I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Binder added.
Meanwhile, a couple people close to Bowe’s friends and family say they feel the town will welcome him home with open arms, should he decide to return to the small mountain town.
We are seeing a lot of opinions on social media: the majority of people writing that they believe Bergdahl is a traitor and deserved a harsher punishment.
While there is relief this chapter has come to a close, the process isn’t over. Bergdahl’s attorneys are planning to appeal his dishonorable discharge and appeal to have his convictions of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy overturned.
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