U.S. military personnel searching for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after his 2009 disappearance gave emotional testimony on Thursday, recounting the injuries their patrol suffered while trying to locate the missing soldier in hostile territory.
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The new details came on the third day of testimony in the sentencing phase of the military trial for Bergdahl, who pleaded guilty last week to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
“I jumped back into the berm and that’s when all hell broke loose,” said Air Force Lt. Colonel John Marx describing a July 2009 Taliban attack on the joint U.S. and Afghan search patrol he participated in that was specifically formed to find Bergdahl.
Army Master Sergeant Mark Allen suffered a severe head wound during the ambush and former Army specialist Jonathan Morita suffered injuries to his right hand and shoulder.
“I thought he was dead at that point in time,” said Staff Sergeant Jason Walters, speaking of Allen. “I started treating his wounds talking to him, tell him to hang on,” said Walters, his words choking with emotion.
The next time Walters saw Allen after that day was one year later, at a hospital in Tampa, Florida.
He choked up describing that reunion,“Seeing him like that is something I don’t wish anyone to have to see. Watching a friend of yours look like that is painful.“
Today, Allen uses a wheelchair and is unable to speak.
Morita described the broken bones he suffered in his right thumb and index finger after a rocket propelled grenade attack struck his rifle during the same patrol. He suffered additional injuries to his shoulder after taking shrapnel from a second RPG.
“I thought I was going to definitely die in Afghanistan,” said Morita.
“I accepted my fate, pulled out my Bible, read a quick verse, grabbed my 9 millimeter and kept firing,” he said.
The patrol was part of the U.S. military’s all-out effort to find Bergdahl in eastern Afghanistan after he walked away from his remote outpost in June 2009.
“Time is not on your side,” said retired Army Colonel Robert Campbell who helped organize searches in eastern Afghanistan. “You’re in a combat zone, you’re in Afghanistan, It’s a dangerous area.“
Campbell emphasized the importance of maximizing the number of search patrols in a situation like Berdahl’s to lower the chances that he could have been captured by the Taliban.
Bergdahl was seized by Taliban militants 20 minutes after he walked away from his post.
Campbell said “we needed everybody in the search" and said it was worth the risks involved to find Bergdahl.
When the sentencing hearing resumes on Monday, Sergeant Allen’s wife will testify about the impact her husband’s injury has had on both of them.