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Transcript

Episode 06: 5 O'Clock Shadow

Note: Serial is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Bowe Bergdahl

First plan was go from point A to point B. That was it.

Ira Glass

Previously on Serial.

Man 1

OP Mest is probably the worst place humanly imaginable.

Man 2

That place sucks.

Man 3

Then you had the little bucket. Everyone shit in it.

Man 4

He was in the town, asking if people spoke English.

Bowe Bergdahl

I'd rather be sitting in Leavenworth than standing over the body of Nascimento or Coe or somebody like that.

Man 5

...foreigner in a Kuchi tent.

Man 6

Kicking in doors one minute—

Man 7

Freaking cow has a baby—

Man 8

This is our mission. He's one of our guys. We gotta find him. We're gonna do it.

Man 9

If we would have found him, I think a lot of us would have shot him.

Man 10

Yeah. Yeah, I still...I'm still...I think I'm still angry about it.

Sarah Koenig

Before Mark started asking Bowe what happened, why'd he walk away from his platoon, Bowe had already talked about it to General Kenneth Dahl. Dahl was in charge of investigating what Bowe did and writing up a report for the army. His inquiry was confined to the period that led up to Bowe's decision to leave—not Bowe's time with the Taliban or anything, just, why'd he walk?

Mark asked Bowe about the statement he gave General Dahl.

Mark Boal

How long is your statement?

Bowe Bergdahl

Um, 300 and some pages.

Mark Boal

Shut up. It's 300 pages?

Bowe Bergdahl

It's 300-plus, like 380 and something pages.

Mark Boal

Are you fucking serious, dude?

Bowe Bergdahl

I'm serious.

Mark Boal

Your statement is 380 pages?

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah.

Mark Boal

Why? What did you do, tell him every fucking meal you had when you were deployed?

Bowe Bergdahl

[CHUCKLING] No, I just told him key points, and...I don't know. It just...that was the story. He told me to tell the story, I told the story, and 380 pages later, I came to the point where the Taliban picked me up.

Sarah Koenig

At a military hearing, Dahl said he and Bowe spoke over the course of a day and a half. Quote, "And frankly at the end of that, I had no more questions to ask him, and he had no more story to tell me. So we exhausted each other, and we were done." Unquote.

Bowe Bergdahl

He wanted...it wasn't just like, here, give me your statement of what happened that night, or whatever. He wanted to understand who I was as a person. You know, nobody knew who I was, because I was so quiet.

Mark Boal

Oh, OK. All right. Well, I didn't understand that. I thought it was just about the deployment.

Bowe Bergdahl

No, no, he...like, basically, in the very beginning, he said, "All right, this is your chance to tell the story." And so I said, "Well, sir, in order for me to explain to you what happened, I need to go back and explain to you where it began."

Sarah Koenig

From This American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it's Serial, one story told week by week. I'm Sarah Koenig. And fear not: I am not going to take you through every one of those 380-some pages. But in the next two episodes, we are going to zoom back in so you can understand what Dahl and Mark and I came to understand about Bowe—whether he told the truth about what he did, and whether there's truth in what he told, because those are two different questions.

One of the things that's interesting to me about Bowe is that he broke this cardinal rule of the military. He left his unit, walked away from his post. But at the same time, he was completely devoted to being a good soldier. And up until the day he left, he was a good soldier. At the military hearing, his former weapons squad leader, a guy named Greg Leatherman, said the leadership used to do this thing sort of like fantasy football, like a mock draft: if you could form a squad from anyone in the company, who would you choose?

Quote, "And first pick, you know, Sergeant Bergdahl was gonna be the first pick for everyone, almost every time," he said. He was a great soldier.

Jason Fry

He did things like study the Ranger Handbook, which is something we were all supposed to do, but none of us actually did. Uh, you know, you'd look through it, you get some notes, and you'd say, "Yeah, I looked at it."

Sarah Koenig

That's Jason Fry. He was in Bowe's platoon. They were friends. The Ranger Handbook is a pocket guide for soldiers on tactics and techniques.

Jason Fry

And he would...you know, he'd come back, he'd highlight it, he'd look at it and study it. And the leadership saw that, and they were like, "Wow," you know, "this guy's trying. He cares about his job. He cares about what he's doing."

Sarah Koenig

Mm-hm.

Jason Fry

And, um, I think that's, uh...that's significant as far as understanding Bowe. He isn't a person who carelessly does something.

Sarah Koenig

Back then, Bowe's goal was Special Forces. He'd joined the army in 2008, and was assigned to the First Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, Blackfoot Company. As an infantry soldier, you are so far from Special Forces. You're a workhorse. You're the guys who get sent out to guard a traffic control point in the middle of nowhere, Afghanistan. But Bowe intended to be a faultless example of an infantryman.

He volunteered for extra duty, took impeccable care of his weapon, helped other people with their jobs once he was done with his, shoved extra snacks in his pockets in case the other guys got hungry. He was fit. One of his former platoon mates told me he was a PT stud. (PT is the often dreaded physical training soldiers have to do.)

He was what military people call squared away: right place, right time, right uniform. Everybody agrees about that. The other thing people will say about Bowe back then is that he was not your typical grunt. They can all describe Bowe, but not one of them would say they totally got him or understood what made him tick.

Shane Cross was friends with Bowe also. They were in the same platoon. He said Bowe wasn't isolated from the group, he just wasn't into the usual stuff. These guys played video games—Bowe didn't. They talked about sex and women—Bowe didn't. He'd say, "I'm not into that kind of thing."

Shane Cross

He didn't wanna...he didn't live the average, you know, barracks soldier lifestyle of drinking, you know, all night, all weekends and everything. He would always listen to classical music. He would read a lot.

Sarah Koenig

Mm-hmm. Would he ever joke around? Did he have a sense of humor?

Shane Cross

Yeah, he had a sense of humor, uh, joining in on the community of teasing, joking around. Not to the extent that most of the soldiers will, you know, playing the grab-assery and stuff.

Sarah Koenig

He kept journals, he tried to study things—Pashto, for instance. And the quietness, it's just how Bowe is. He's an introvert. But it was also intentional.

Bowe Bergdahl

The best way to create the least amount of friction is not be...you know...is, one, don't run your mouth and act like a, you know, dumbass. Don't get in people's personal space. Don't go out of your way like a know-it-all. You know, if you're quiet, if you're off to the side, if you listen, and if you watch, and if you help people—because then you're able to help them, because you're watching and you're seeing, you know, when somebody needs help—you, know, that pays off, you know, as far as the team is concerned.

Sarah Koenig

He doesn't want to annoy anyone, or create a problem. He's thinking about the best way he can contribute to the collective, how he can be most useful. He's like the perfect guest, except that this strong philosopher-nerd component he has, people might find it interesting or irritating. Example: Bowe took up smoking, sort of. A lot of privates smoked cigarettes, but he smoked a pipe. If the other guys were hunkered up in the window smoking cigarettes, he'd bring his pipe.

Bowe Bergdahl

So, you know, even though I don't smoke, they're...you know, I'm going out, um, with the...you know, with the guys, because, you know, if you look at the cig...you know, the whole cigarette ritual thing, it's kind of, you know, it's a bonding ritual, more or less.

Sarah Koenig

Like, he was participating, but with an anthropological bent. Bowe would probably be the first to admit that he had a bit of a tin ear for social interaction sometimes. Not with everyone, but with some. One time, Zach Barrow was talking about wanting to travel around Europe, go to Amsterdam, for all the reasons a young man would want to go to Amsterdam. Bowe's contribution? He talked about Amsterdam's major exports and the financial stability of the Netherlands.

Zach Barrow

Yeah, yeah.

Sarah Koenig

[LAUGHING] Do you remember that?

Zach Barrow

He was that kind of dude. I mean, it was weird. Like, you would tell stories like that, or talk about women, and he was like a fact-driven dude.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe was a fact-driven dude. The problem was, he wasn't always great in the moment at sorting out what was fact and what wasn't. Bowe's time in the army started out OK. He had specific ideas about leadership, about how you practice it. And in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Bowe found what he was looking for: a senior drill Sergeant who was everything he felt like a military leader should be.

Bowe Bergdahl

My senior drill sergeant was an amazing, you know, sergeant. I would have followed him, definitely would have followed him into battle. I would've have no problem with it, because, you know, he was somebody that you could trust, and you could certainly take pride in backing him, because he was just that, you know, that type of a leader. But unfortunately when I got out of basic, everything just went downhill from there.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe sized up everyone he came into contact with in the army. And while he has some nice things to say about the competence of some of his platoon mates or a couple of his sergeants, as far as Bowe is concerned, not one leader, especially the guys up the chain, held a candle to this senior drill sergeant.

Bowe Bergdahl

Like I told General Dahl, uh, my disillusionment wasn't like...it didn't start in Afghanistan. It basically had snowballed from the moment I got to my unit, and all these little things just started ticking off and just started being logged back in my memory.

Sarah Koenig

A worrisome catalog began to compile—at first, just a comment here or there. When he got to his unit in Alaska, where the 1st of the 501st is based, someone suggested Bowe lock up his stuff, because otherwise it might get swiped. A bit of advice to a newcomer. But Bowe thought, How am I supposed to go onto a battlefield if I can't even trust these guys here? All those years later, he remembered it, and he told it to General Dahl.

Then there was a comment by the command sergeant major, Ken Wolfe. Prior to deployment, Wolfe did a full formal inspection of the battalion. While he was at it, he explained to them what the mission would be in Afghanistan, or at least what it wouldn't be.

Ken Wolfe

And I basically gave the same speech, or the same spiel, to all 14 platoons, which was, "Hey, we're not going here to rape, kill, pillage, and burn. You know, we're doing just the opposite of that."

Sarah Koenig

Mm-hmm.

Ken Wolfe

And I said, "I know lots of you guys joined the army to do that," and everybody in the organization, you know, found the humor in that.

Sarah Koenig

Not Bowe. He did not find the humor in that. Wolfe had joked that he'd joined back in '83 to rape, kill, pillage, and burn also. But Bowe, even if he understood it was intended as a joke, he did not think it was funny. He found it distressing. He'd told Dahl he was taken aback.

In early 2009, Bowe sent an email from Alaska to his family and friends. Quote, "My deployment dates to Afghanistan have been set to the 9th or 10th of March, so the countdown has started," he wrote. "I'm looking forward to the next year of learning and challenges."

In fact, Bowe didn't end up deploying with the rest of his unit. He had road marched in a pair of new boots, trying to break them in, and gotten a blister on his left foot that turned into a serious staph infection. He had to go to the hospital. So he stayed back on what's called Rear D, rear detachment. But almost everyone else shipped off to Paktika Province, Eastern Afghanistan.

And when they landed, spring of 2009, was a turning point for U.S. forces there. The Taliban and other anti-Afghan government groups had pushed back into the country in a big way. There were Taliban shadow governors in 33 out of the country's 34 provinces. Casualties among U.S. and coalition forces had spiked. By almost every measure, we were losing.

President Obama had ordered a review of the war when he came into office that year, and by the end of March, in a speech, he declared the situation, quote, "increasingly perilous," unquote. We'd been focused as a country and as a military on Iraq, now; he said we'd be turning our attention back to Afghanistan. In the next year, we'd more than double our troop numbers there.

To meet the surge, the Army was scrambling for recruits, issuing waivers to people who might not have qualified a few years earlier. And units like the 1st of the 501st—Bowe's battalion, that had just done a 15-month tour in Iraq—were coming home, absorbing new recruits, and turning around and heading back into war, this time to Afghanistan.

The day after Obama made his "increasingly perilous" speech, Bowe's battalion officially began its mission in Afghanistan. And that mission was counterinsurgency—COIN for short. General David Petraeus had embraced the doctrine. In 2006, he co-wrote a new counterinsurgency manual for the army. He explained, COIN means you're not just gonna be fighting. Quote, "soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation builders as well as warriors," he wrote.

The idea of COIN in Afghanistan was to beat back the enemy, and at the same time train the Afghan security forces to take over the fight themselves. And, very important, to build support among the people for the Afghan government, try to win them over, shore up the economy, the infrastructure, so that they'll turn away from the insurgents. The mantra became "Clear, hold, build, transfer."

In Petraeus's manual, there's a graphic of something that looks sort of like a AA battery. At one end are the people who are for the cause, at the other are the people who are against the cause. Everything in between was the, quote, "uncommitted middle." Those were the people we wanted to pull over to our side.

Zach Barrow

Basically, the first few months, all we were doing was, uh, making sure direct routes to other FOBs were secure and kind of, uh, showing force, I guess? or will—making ourselves known, I guess, to the townspeople for the first few months.

Sarah Koenig

That's Zach Barrow, and the uncertainty in his voice about what exactly they were doing? A lot of the soldiers felt that way. I got in contact with a lot of these guys through Mark's company, Page One, by the way, which was super helpful. Some of the COIN stuff made sense to the soldiers. They might back up Afghan police in some mission, or they'd help rebuild a hospital. But other stuff seemed fuzzier. They were doing a lot of handing out.

Jon Thurman

Bags of salt, things of ghee, bags of rice. We would hand out crayons for the kids. I distinctly remember the, uh, map puzzles of Afghanistan with watercolor paint set. We handed out quite a bit of those.

Sarah Koenig

That's Jon Thurman.

Jon Thurman

There was a lot of confusion, um, you know, because infantrymen, we...I think by definition, we're not supposed to be doing humanitarian things. Um, and we'd been...we'd been trained from the get-go in basic training, you know, your mission is to close with and destroy the enemy. And then we're out there handing out, you know, watercolor maps of Afghanistan, wondering, How is this going to work? How do we beat the Taliban this way?

Sarah Koenig

Here's Mark McCrorie and Shane Cross.

Mark McCrorie

And I think a lot of guys were a little bit weirded out by going out and shaking hands, and, you know, I figured there'd be a little bit more shooting involved.

Shane Cross

You want to go meet the enemy. If there's a bad guy over there, you go find them and you kill them, not go give his mother-in-law some flour to convince her to join your side, you know?

Sarah Koenig

About two months after Bowe's platoon deployed, on May 13th, 2009, Bowe finally joined up with them at FOB Sharana. Shane Cross brought him to the barracks.

Shane Cross

I could definitely pick up on his disappointment when he realized what we were doing, where we were living kind of thing.

Sarah Koenig

Why? What was he disappointed about?

Shane Cross

Uh, he wanted hardships, I think.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, like Sharana was too cushy.

Shane Cross

Yeah, we were in hard-stand rooms. Everyone slept on the bottom bunk and you put all your stuff on the top bunk.

Sarah Koenig

Mm-hmm.

Shane Cross

I think that was a little disappointing to him. He wanted...like I said, he wanted hardship. He wanted more what you would have seen in the movies. I mean, he wouldn't sleep on his mattress. He flipped his mattress off his bed, and he slept on the springs that were underneath it.

Sarah Koenig

What?

Shane Cross

It wasn't like a box spring. It was just these metal coils going across the wooden frame of the bed.

Sarah Koenig

Sure.

Shane Cross

And he would just lay on that. He was really into knives. He's big into...he's a big knife guy. He had a tomahawk that he slept with.

Sarah Koenig

And where's the tomahawk?

Shane Cross

In his ch...on his chest, holding it.

Bowe Bergdahl

I wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to be a security contractor afterwards, you know? I wanted people to take me serious. I wanted to go in the Special Forces.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe told Mark that, yeah, he did want that movie version of the military.

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, I wanted that adventure. I wanted that action. I wanted that moment of adrenaline. I wanted that moment of, you know...of, uh, contact, you know? Getting in gunfights and being a soldier that, you know, gets in firefights, gets...you know, goes around in armored trucks.

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Less than a week after Bowe arrived at his base, his platoon did see action.

Bowe Bergdahl

On a mountain plateau called Omnah.

Sarah Koenig

And this incident and its aftermath became the first solid building block in Bowe's argument for triggering a DUSTWUN. They went on a mission to Omnah, a district center up in the mountains. I spoke to a bunch of the soldiers who were there, and they all said it was the scariest thing that happened during their deployment.

They'd been called up in the middle of the night to help out another convoy that had hit an IED. That first convoy had been trying to help Afghan security forces up at Omnah who had recently come under fire. But they hit an IED up there, and so now Bowe's platoon was going to recover the disabled vehicle.

Josh Korder

This was like our first mission, like we're going somewhere. We're doing something.

Sarah Koenig

That's Josh Korder. It was a mission that was supposed to take maybe eight hours. To get up to Omnah, they have to drive up to the plateau. And just the drive itself is harrowing. The road isn't much bigger than a goat path. There's a steep drop off the side. There's no room for error. And they're driving in these huge trucks, brand-new mine resistant trucks.

Josh Korder

Just a giant tank.

Sarah Koenig

OK.

Josh Korder

Like, the best description I could give, but it was a really nice tank. It had like leather seats and air-conditioning and like all the...all the new stuff, because we just literally got them.

Sarah Koenig

How does it do on like a goat path, though?

Josh Korder

Well, honestly, to be honest with you, a little bit better than you might expect. We didn't know, because we just...we were brand new to them, because we were driving around in Humvees before that.

Austin Lanford

We were driving up this mountain, and the truck right in front of me—so I'm the last, this is the second to last vehicle—just explodes.

Sarah Koenig

Austin Lanford was in the same truck as Josh.

Austin Lanford

And then it just disappeared in the dust. Like, I didn't see it anymore. I was like, did the truck just fall off the cliff? Is it going? We started trying to call them and be like, "Hey, are you OK? Are you there?" Like, "What's going on?" And then like pieces of the truck fell on our truck.

Sarah Koenig

But they were OK. That's the beauty of these massive, ungainly vehicles. The generic name is MRAP: mine resistant, ambush protected. You can survive these IED explosions if you're inside. But now this MRAP is severely damaged—an axle is broken. And so they have to drag it the rest of the way up the mountain, because you can't just ditch it. You never leave army equipment in the battlefield if you can help it, even if it's broken.

An MRAP has sophisticated systems in it. You don't want the enemy to get those, or to use the truck for propaganda. Austin's driving the MRAP behind the one that got blown up. They make everyone but him get out of his vehicle, and they tell him, Be ready to jump out in case your MRAP goes over the cliff, or if the disabled MRAP falls back on you.

He's terrified, but they manage it. They haul the disabled MRAP the rest of the way up to the Omnah district center, which is a kind of fort up on the plateau where some Afghan security forces are stationed. They'd been attacked by Taliban a couple of days earlier. Josh Korder.

Josh Korder

This was like the first time that I saw something that I was like, this place is fucked up—like, bad. There's just bullet holes all through the walls. There's, um, holes from where RPGs hit and like rockets were hitting them. Their towers were like worn down because they'd been firing so many machine gun rounds that like the concrete was chipping away. And you're just like, Oh my god. This is serious.

Sarah Koenig

They came to rescue another vehicle, and now they need rescuing. They spend the night in their trucks. They don't trust the Afghan security guys, first of all. And second, if a firefight starts, they don't want to be trapped in a building. They want to be able to drive away. So they're nervous that first night.

Zach Barrow said when they finally walk around, they realize pretty quickly that the people up there at Omnah don't want anything to do with them, have no interest in interacting. It's tense. So they're pulling guard shifts, and spending a ton of time crammed in their trucks.

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, I can leave it to your imagination. Imagine guys with all full battle rattle on, sitting in an extremely close truck, and trying to scramble from guard shift to whatever spot they can find to sleep in.

Sarah Koenig

They're trying to sleep in contorted positions. All your gear made it so you couldn't really fit in your seat, if you were lucky enough to get a seat. During the day, they're so hot and bored—so bored they used an MRE box and caps from water bottles to play checkers. They're undersupplied in every way.

Austin Lanford

It was just the most miserable place ever. We had nothing. And I smoke, so we ran out of cigarettes, we had like no chewing tobacco, we had nothing. They actually had to drop food and water with airplanes because they couldn't get to us.

Josh Korder

We didn't bring razors. Nobody had any changes of clothes. So—

Sarah Koenig

The first thing you said was "We had no razors"—

Josh Korder

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

—which to me would be the last thing you would think about is like shaving when you're in a situation like that, but is that a thing?

Josh Korder

Yeah. It is a thing actually. It's not OK for the army people to be growing, like, a beard.

Sarah Koenig

You're aware all the time, like, I gotta shave, I gotta shave, I gotta shave.

Josh Korder

Yup. Yeah. Yup, yup. And it's in your brain like, Oh my god. What are they gonna say? Are they gonna say I'm stupid because I didn't bring a razor? Are they gonna get pissed at us? Are they gonna...like, what's gonna happen?

Sarah Koenig

Days are going by, but it feels like nothing's happening. The whole time they're trying to communicate with their commanders, trying to figure out what they're supposed to do with these broken vehicles. MRAPs in particular were valuable. Until they came along, U.S. soldiers were getting killed and maimed by the hundreds because of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MRAPs were the solution. They kept you so much safer than a Humvee.

By the time Bowe got to Afghanistan, if soldiers were moving around on land, they were pretty much in an MRAP. But there weren't all that many of them yet, and they got blown up a lot. You could Frankenstein them back together if you had the right parts, but because they'd been rushed into production by the DOD, and suppliers had scrambled to get them to market, you had something like four different models in circulation at any one time. All of which needed their own parts. You couldn't necessarily mix and match. So even a couple of blown-up ones on top of a plateau had value.

Bowe's platoon likely didn't know all the ins and outs of why they couldn't just explode the things on site and go home. All they knew was that they were waiting what seemed a preposterously long time for someone higher up to come up with a plan. Were they gonna send a wrecker up there, or was the platoon gonna have to drag these disabled monsters back down the mountain?

They had a mechanic up there with them, but he was stumped. They tried to communicate the situation back to their commanders. It's not going well.

Josh Korder

So we had the mechanic there, and they said, "Send us a list of the parts that you need to fix it." [LAUGHS] And, yeah, and so the mechanic gets on there, and he says, "It's not gonna get fixed."

Bowe Bergdahl

The mechanics and the sergeants are calling down. They're radioing down, saying, "The truck is blown up. We can't fix it."

Josh Korder

And then command says, "Why not?" And then we all look at each other like, what?

Bowe Bergdahl

We literally had to jack the thing up to try and change out a tire. The mechanic's sitting there with a mused look on his face, going, "We're not driving this thing off the mountain. It's been blown up."

Josh Korder

We all felt like, Why are we up here? What is going on? All the combat veterans, the ones that had been there for a lot longer in the army, were all scratching their heads. Nobody understood why we were doing this.

Sarah Koenig

Eventually, on about day five, they're told to head home. Another team will come and deal with the MRAPs. They're also instructed to take a different route back down the mountain. They pass through a village. It's bad. Shane Cross said it was military-aged men, no kids, who all just stop and stare at the convoy.

Shane Cross

We pass some cattle by themselves, and a burning...like, it was a smoldering campfire by itself. At the time, that's a sign also of, well, there's unattended cattle, unattended fire that was going, as in people booked it and got out there.

Austin Lanford

I had this terrible feeling that we were about to get blown up or shot at.

Sarah Koenig

That's Austin Lanford. Suddenly, there's an IED explosion. Another truck hit and disabled.

Austin Lanford

Well, once again, uh, that truck gets blown up right in front of me. We are like, All right, well, we gotta go assess the situation. So we get out.

Sarah Koenig

An EOD guy gets out too. EOD is explosive ordinance disposal. They're the bomb experts. Here's Josh.

Josh Korder

And so the EOD guy was out there sweeping with his little minesweeper, and he comes across something, and he picks it up. And then he starts pulling on it. And it's like...it's like a wire, like a buried wire. And so he's picking it up, and sees it like stringing into the woods. And then he just kinda drops it and goes, "Oh shit."

My first reaction was that I cocked my machine gun and I said out loud, I said, "Let's do this." [LAUGHTER] It's very cliché. I understand that, but that was exactly what I did. That was exactly what I did. I'm like, this is going down. There's not any way that we're not about to get attacked. It was so obvious.

Sarah Koenig

Right.

Josh Korder

So I cocked my weapon, and I was like, "OK, let's do this."

Austin Lanford

An RPG came like flying by us and hit on the ground in front of us. And right then it scared the crap out of me, because then guns started firing. Like, immediately I get up, and I frigging started sprinting towards the truck, trying to find cover.

Sarah Koenig

This is what's called a complex attack. They'd been waiting for the convoy to pass by this way. Now it's a mess of gunfire and explosions. Josh is a gunner, so he's up in the turret of his truck. People below are calling out targets, saying one o'clock, three o'clock, two o'clock, eight o'clock, six o'clock. The attack is coming from everywhere.

Josh Korder

My platoon sergeant gets in the truck, and he literally starts punching me on my ass, and telling me to keep firing. Um, so, you know, I went through like 400 rounds initially, and I keep firing, keep firing, keep firing, and I don't...I don't let up.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe was also a gunner, but he wasn't in the turret of his truck. Zach Barrow was up there. But immediately, Zach's gun jammed, so Bowe hands his weapon up, called a saw. Zach starts firing.

Bowe Bergdahl

I'm close to 50, 60 rounds, I think, out of my saw. Unfortunately, then it jams.

Sarah Koenig

Another guy now hands up his saw. The third weapon works. The convoy needs to get out of this ravine they're trapped in. But now they've got this disabled truck, which they need to tow out. So the platoon leader, J.P. Billings, jumps out of his truck to hook up a cable. Shane was the gunner in that truck.

Shane Cross

He just...he just yells out, "Cover me." And he opens the door and jumps out and runs off. And Max Pros they're really big. They're tall. So I can't see which way he ran, you know. And he had run off to the truck behind us, grabbed a cable, hooked it up, hooked it up to our truck, and then ran, climbed back inside.

I could see him climbing into his driver's seat. He had mud all over him—you know, splatters of mud from enemy rounds hitting the dirt and flinging mud onto him.

Sarah Koenig

Oh my god.

Shane Cross

—he was covered in. He gets inside. He yells...he's yelling, "Go, go," for Sauer to drive. He yells at all of us in the truck. He says, "Don't you ever let me do something like that again." And Sergeant Sauer floors it, and the cable snaps. And Lieutenant Billings calls out, "Cover me!" and he just dives right back out the vehicle again.

Sarah Koenig

So twice Billings goes out there. Second time, the cable holds. They move out. Air support moves in. Incredibly, no one from their unit got hurt during the firefight. One soldier who was there said that by the end, he heard that up to 10 Taliban had been killed. Bowe's platoon eventually limps home, back to the FOB. Their MRAPs are all banged up, flat tires and bullet holes.

Here's what Bowe remembers about what happened when they pulled back into the wire after Omnah.

Bowe Bergdahl

We get to the wire entrance. The battalion commander's standing there waiting for us. So our platoon sergeant gets out of the truck. Now, when you get to the grounds, our platoon...our...the battalion commander says something. But now, what does he say? Does he say, "Hey, congratulations, you guys. You did a good job out there. I'm glad to see you back. Congratulations," you know, "You didn't lose anyone out there. I'm proud of you. Hey, how's the men doing? How are you feeling? How's everything going?"

He didn't say anything like that. His concern was not anywhere close to, hey, how's the men's wellbeing doing? How are my men who were out there in a war zone? He didn't say anything like that. Our platoon sergeant steps out of the truck, hits the ground, and the first thing that comes out of our battalion commander's mouth is "What? You couldn't shave?"

Sarah Koenig

Bowe's usually pretty measured, the way he talks to Mark in the phone calls. But whenever he talks about this incident, whenever he talks at all about the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Clint Baker, Bowe can barely tamp down his anger. He goes on and on about this shaving comment, which he heard about secondhand.

Bowe Bergdahl

So it's just like, are you serious? After all of that bullshit, after everything that we've gone through, we get back here and now we have to go shave the blasted six days' mud off our face because some jackass who's been sitting in an air-conditioned office giving us bullshit orders the entire time, he's got a problem with the fact that, what? We couldn't shave?

Sarah Koenig

Some of Bowe's platoon mates were annoyed also, but they shook it off.

Shane Cross

From then on, a lot of guys carried a...put a...like, a disposable razor and just stuck it on their kit, on their chest kind of thing. As like a "Well, don't worry—I can shave any time I need to."

Sarah Koenig

Oh, as like a little fuck you?

Shane Cross

Yeah. [CHUCKLES]

Sarah Koenig

Bowe was noticing the same things the other guys were. He was getting mad at the same things they were. But while the other guys might bitch about something and then flush it away, for Bowe these things were sticking, attaching to other incidents he'd already lodged in his memory, starting in Alaska—like pieces of a puzzle only he was putting together.

In the phone calls, Mark comes back again and again to Omnah, trying to fit it correctly into Bowe's overall argument.

Mark Boal

When you say "the problems," you're talking specifically about putting people at risk for things like retrieving broken equipment? Or are you talking about...'cause I don't know, I'm not sure which...yeah.

Bowe Bergdahl

It's a blanket statement because there's so much going on. We had, um—

Sarah Koenig

The most obvious complaint a soldier might have about Omnah would be exactly what Mark is getting at, that it sounds like a wrong-headed, dangerous mission, and it's just luck that no one from his platoon got hurt or killed. But what makes Bowe furious about this Omnah incident wasn't so much the crappy communication between the mechanics and the commanders, or the being stranded for days, or their unfortunate route home, which clearly the enemy had had ample time to plan for. More than all that, it was the shaving thing.

Bowe says, yes, Omnah was scary, but when they come home, the battalion commander doesn't acknowledge the scariness. Moreover, to Bowe, at least, he seems unconcerned about the welfare of his men. And to Bowe, that's what starts to feel scary, that maybe they're not in safe hands. And interestingly, confusingly, Bowe was also complaining at the time that they were playing it too safe. Omnah was miserable, but it was also exciting, especially for the new guys in the platoon who hadn't been in Iraq before.

Something had happened, and they'd survived and bonded over it. Bowe didn't seem to share in that. He hadn't fired his weapon. In an email to a friend he sent the day they got back from Omnah, he wrote, quote, "I sat there and watched. There was nothing else I was allowed to do," unquote. He added, "But Afghanistan mountains are really beautiful."

Josh Korder says he noticed something shift in Bowe after they got back from Omnah. His tone changed.

Josh Korder

I was in the truck with him a few of the missions after that, and he was talking to one of the guys down below in the truck. And they were talk...everybody's talking about the firefight and everything like that, um, 'cause that's like the most significant thing that happened in our whole deployment, so of course everybody talked about it over and over again.

Um, and he, during the conversation, said, "All that stuff is just bullshit." And we're like, "What? What's bullshit about it?" He's like, "We shoulda gone out there, and we shoulda killed every single one of those guys. We shouldn't have..." He thought we were being cowards because we hid in our trucks and we didn't go out there and do that.

And he's like, "Well, we go to these villages, and we hand out these blankets and all this stuff. We shouldn't be doing that. We should be out there just killing these people who are shooting at us, killing these people who are...just don't care about Afghan people ... killing the bad guys." And then he says...at that point, he's like, "Our whole entire...the whole entire army is just pussies. Everyone's a pussy, because we don't go out there, and we don't kill the enemy like we're supposed to."

Sarah Koenig

I don't know if Josh's quotes are precisely accurate, but other guys have told me Bowe's said versions of this sentiment. And it's true and understandable that Bowe talks to Mark about a bunch of different feelings he had about the war—wanting more action, but also feeling that they should be doing COIN better, should be working harder to engage with local Afghans, taking every opportunity to talk to them. And he says he felt like—and that a lot of guys felt like—whatever it is we're doing over here, it's not helping regular Afghans.

Bowe Bergdahl

Everybody was saying, "This is bullshit. This whole thing is stupid." You know, guys in my platoon, they're all...you know, we'd look at each other when we're sitting here in the trucks and just shake our heads, because we're like, This is bullshit, you know, what we're doing here.

Sarah Koenig

All right. So I want to take a minute here just to stare at that notion. Was it bullshit? My best barometer for that is Jason Dempsey, PhD, the guy you heard a few episodes ago. He was an officer at the battalion and the brigade level, and he did tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was there when Bowe went missing. He went back in 2012 as a combat advisor to the Afghans, and then again in 2014 to see how that was going.

So he's got a lot of perspective. I asked Jason, was the mission bullshit? The problem, he said, is that the army said it was doing COIN, it planned its mission and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as if it were doing COIN, but it never fully committed to COIN. Because for COIN to work, you've gotta commit to a place for decades, probably. We're talking 30, 40 years.

If you want to drive political change, you have to have people out there long enough to understand the politics of the place they're in. Jason said you can't rotate units in and out in 7-or 12-month increments and expect success.

Jason Dempsey

Everybody in the military will tell you, you're really effective from month three to month nine.

Sarah Koenig

'Cause you're just figuring it out for the first three months?

Jason Dempsey

Yeah, you've figured it out, you're rocking and rolling, you're really doing great things for six months. And then you're transitioning out for those last three months. And then whether or not the lessons and the momentum you learned in those six months get carried on, you might as well roll the dice.

Sarah Koenig

Really?

Jason Dempsey

You might as well roll the dice, because another unit's coming in. They may or may not share your vision. Even if they do share your vision, they spend the first three months confused themselves.

Sarah Koenig

The army didn't really train units like Bowe's for COIN in Afghanistan. Jason said they couldn't, not in the time allowed. He said he and other soldiers were basically told, if you make their lives better, they'll support you. And so a unit gets to Afghanistan, but it doesn't really understand the society there: who's who, what the power dynamics are, the tribes, the families, the alliances, the ethnic groups—the whole root system of a country that's pretty much been at war on and off for 30 years.

And so you plunk down and try to convey your message of goodwill on the ground, it doesn't translate very well.

Jason Dempsey

If you're a young American, say, company commander or a platoon leader, and you walk into your typical Afghan village circa 2009, and an elder approaches, and he's like, "Hey, what's up? What are you guys doing here?" Your average young lieutenant or captain is gonna say, "Well, we're here to make your life better. We want to build some roads, we want to connect you to the central government, we want...uh, you know, we just want to improve your life, make sure your kids can go to school—the whole bit."

So immediately, what's that Afghan thinking? In the back of his mind, he's like, Holy shit. This dude's lying through his teeth. Who the fuck comes to Afghanistan to make my life better? Right? It's an absurd notion in the mind of this Afghan that the United States of America would send people around the world just to build roads for local Afghans. So the Afghan says, "OK. That's cool. Thanks, guys. Good to meet you," ...

walks away, goes back to his village, and says, "Hey, you should hear what this American told me." And he'll ask around: "Well, what do you think, why are they here?" And there can be a young Talib sitting there, and the kid can say, "Well, they're here 'cause they hate Islam." Among those two messages for your average Afghan, the idea that we're there because we hate Islam is much more rational, right? For them, it's just they're more prone to believe it.

Sarah Koenig

But when we say, We're here—" I mean, were we saying to them...was that young lieutenant gonna say, "We wanna...we wanna get you on our side so that we, together, can get rid of the Taliban and foreign fighters and the Arabs that are coming in"? Or are they just saying, "No no no, we just want to give you rice and build roads"?

Jason Dempsey

Right. No, there is...there is...there is some of that. I oversimplified it to you a little.

Sarah Koenig

I mean, because you can explain it. I mean, you can say, "Look, well, it's in our interests for you guys to be, um, supporting our mission."

Jason Dempsey

Yeah, it's a valid point. And a lot of times that would get lost, though, at the platoon level.

Sarah Koenig

Lost at the platoon level because if the soldiers don't know who's supporting them, who's supporting the Taliban, and why, then of course the messaging is pretty crude.

Jason Dempsey

Much as we never really understood all these overlapping power structures and incentives and relationships that preexisted us, we never wanted to understand what the Afghans were actually doing. We just wanted to be able to walk in and say here's a template for how you should run an army—go for it. Because we don't want to get our hands dirty, right?

Sarah Koenig

Right. We'll just show you how.

Jason Dempsey

Yeah, we're gonna show you how—

Sarah Koenig

Just watch what we do.

Jason Dempsey

Right, exactly. That's a great way to put it. We'll just show you how. Watch what we do. And then if you don't end up doing that, it must not be because of any structural issues underneath, it must be because you just don't care. And that's probably the most infuriating thing about all of this, is we have an entire generation of army folks, marines, et cetera, who have gone through. And at the end of a deployment, they've said, well, the Afghans just don't care about this fight as much as we do. Which is quite possibly the most preposterous thing you could say about the war in Afghanistan, that they don't care about it as much as we do.

The reality is, they're fighting their struggle. We're fighting ours. And we never bothered to say, OK, do these two things actually overlap?

Sarah Koenig

In November of 2009, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton got a memo to the same effect. It's inside an email recently released by the State Department. It's notes from a conversation an advisor of Clinton's had with a guy named Bill Murray, who'd had a long and distinguished career at the CIA, had been station chief in Pakistan in the '90s—and all that, apparently, after starring in the movie Stripes.

Anyway, CIA Bill Murray said the same thing Jason is saying: that there's a giant protracted misunderstanding going on. It seems Murray did not mince words. The memo reads almost like an urgent overseas telegram. Quote, "We are literally fighting the people. They think we are fighting Islam. The problem is not the number of troops. It's a failed mission. The Afghans believe we are there to stay. This is the thing they will never accept. They will allow armies to go through and even stay for a few years, but not stay forever. I don't see how to make this work," unquote.

Murray's overall advice: Abandon COIN. Don't try to build the Afghan nation or restructure society. Stop talking about democracy. They don't care. Tell them you want to get bin Laden and then get out. Inside the army leadership, though, the message was very different. It was: We can do this if we keep trying. We just need more time, more money, more men.

Of course Bowe and his platoon mates didn't have all this perspective. They might wonder whether what they were doing was worthwhile, but mostly they were just doing their jobs, doing what they were told, knowing it was sometimes or often sucky. Right after Omnah, Bowe was sent with his platoon to Mest, the little outpost 20 miles south of Fob Sharana. Mest would deliver the rest of Bowe's complaints.

The Mest mission fit in exactly to Petraeus's COIN idea: to get soldiers off the FOBs, out into other more remote parts of Afghanistan, to work with and train local security forces. When Bowe first got to Mest in late May of 2009, there wasn't much of anything on top of the hill there. There was a cemetery and a tiny little bunker fortified with sandbags.

Bowe Bergdahl

So we're on this observation post, and they put six of us up there the first night. Well, the first night, that foxhole was big enough for two guys to be under cover. So that's four guys sleeping out on a bare hill with a town that is probably maybe 75 yards away at the bottom of this little hill. Anybody could have, you know, lit that hill up with an RPK, and more than likely would have gotten us.

And this wasn't considered a security risk. This wasn't considered a safety risk, you know, by the guys who put us up there. The sergeants that were up there made a call to start digging a bigger hole so that we could fortify the position. Here we are digging this hole in the middle of a blasted heat wave of the summer, and they called down to ask for guidance on uniform.

Sarah Koenig

In other words, are we allowed to take off some of our stuff—vests and helmets—while we dig this hole in the punishing heat? Bowe remembers them getting a vague answer that amounted to yes. Greg Leatherman, who was in charge up there on the hill, told Dahl that he did remember calling for instruction on uniform.

Quote, "We could see down below, and they didn't have their gear on. I asked the commander when we were digging if we can take our gear off. He replied that as long as we were working on digging, it should be fine," unquote. It's not all that uncommon for soldiers to do this, by the way—bend the uniform rules a little. Austin Lanford was at Mest too. He wasn't up above where Bowe was, but he was doing similar work down below, where the trucks were. Daryl Hansen was there as well.

Austin Lanford

It was hot. It was extremely, extremely hot. And we're digging into a mountain full of rock. So you can either be in long sleeves, pants, and, like, the full kit, and die, or you can drop load and do it how you have to do it to get it done as fast as you can, because time is of the essence.

Daryl Hansen

And so you decide to pull your sleeves up. You decide to take your helmet off, and maybe put a bandana on to keep your sweat out of your face. And maybe you unblouse your boots, 'cause you're hot.

Bowe Bergdahl

So here we are, trying to fortify this thing, because the first night we slept out on, you know...open. Um, and so here comes this BC.

Sarah Koenig

BC is Battalion Commander Clint Baker, he of the shaving remark. And of course Baker sees them out of uniform.

Bowe Bergdahl

And he comes running up this hill by himself with the Afghan governor and his entourage. He gets up to the hill. He doesn't stop to talk to anybody. He doesn't stop to ask what's going on. All's he does is he gets in the face of the sergeant there, doesn't give him a chance to explain fully what's going on. You see nothing but aggression.

And he literally went up, ... he pressed his chest plate up against the other sergeant, like trying to get into his face. And you could nothing but aggression coming from him. And then he turns around, he throws this little shaking tantrum.

Sarah Koenig

Clint Baker told General Dahl he remembered the incident, and said he was, quote, "putting on a bit of an act to drive a point home," unquote. So, that reprimand might have been the end of it, except there was a photographer hanging around the platoon at that time, Sean Smith of the Guardian newspaper, and he published a bunch of photos online of Bowe and the others not in their proper uniform. And that sent the commanders through the roof.

Bowe Bergdahl

The sergeants...all the sergeants in our platoon get called in the battalion commander's office. The battalion commander goes on a rant. He calls...he calls...he basically is calling us all the names that he can call us. And he's saying, "Well, you guys, your actions...you guys are as bad as child rapists. Your actions are as bad as if you had murdered, you know, an entire village in Vietnam." And he's going on and on and on.

Mark Boal

What? Why would he say that? That's ridiculous.

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, well, it's because we...you know, we were a stain to his little idea, you know, his little fashion show. This is what he was concerned about, was how he looked.

Sarah Koenig

When I first heard Bowe's account, which, again, he was hearing secondhand, since he wasn't in the room, I didn't quite believe it. I mean, I believed they got chewed out, but not to that degree. I figured he was exaggerating. Colonel Baker didn't respond to my request for an interview, which I'm not surprised by, since he'll likely be involved in Bowe's court martial proceeding.

But I asked Ken Wolfe about it. He was Colonel Baker's number two. And it seems Ken yelled at them about the photos too. He explained that, yes indeed, this was a very big deal. Ken had dropped the Guardian photographer at Mest and then kept driving farther south. He was at another command center down there when someone showed him the photos. I interviewed Ken over the phone.

Ken Wolfe

If we could ever find those photos, uh, and pull them back up, you can see—

Sarah Koenig

I'm looking at them, actually. I just see, like, guys standing around. [LAUGHING] Like, you see something completely different.

Ken Wolfe

Right, but you see the weapons?

Sarah Koenig

Well, I was looking at one...

Ken Wolfe

Do you see anybody with body armor on?

Sarah Koenig

Um, what does body armor look like, exactly?

Ken Wolfe

Body armor—you know, the...like if you see the video games, the flak vests.

Sarah Koenig

Like a big vest or something? No, I see guys, um—

Ken Wolfe

You guys with helmets on?

Sarah Koenig

N-nobody has a helmet on.

Ken Wolfe

No, you see a bunch of guys waiting to get fucking killed.

Sarah Koenig

Oh boy.

Ken Wolfe

That's what you see.

Sarah Koenig

The other thing that made Ken crazy was the way the weapons looked in the photos: machine guns pointing up in the air, not on tripods like they should be. I had to look very hard at the photos to even find the offending guns, but Ken took it all in right away: the scarves on people's heads, Bowe.

And then there's Bergdahl standing off to the right, and he's—

Ken Wolfe

With the pipe.

Sarah Koenig

With the pipe.

Ken Wolfe

Oh yeah, that's a classic. I love it. And this is the one where I said, you know, "And I don't want to see more of this fucking Lawrence of Arabia shit."

Sarah Koenig

Bowe points out to Mark that pipes actually have a longer, richer place in military history than cigarettes—see General Patton. Anyway, to Ken, the whole scene screamed lack of discipline. Alarm bells went off. If these guys aren't following the basic rules, how can they be trusted when a bigger problem comes along?

Prior to deployment, he and his sergeants had come up with uniform rules they all agreed to enforce. And now they were saying, Well, I know it's against the rules, but...

Ken Wolfe

But you know what? I think I know better, and I don't care. So do whatever the fuck you want.

Sarah Koenig

I see, and that's the breakdown in discipline, in fact. It's right there.

Ken Wolfe

Yes, do whatever the fuck you want.

Sarah Koenig

Right.

Ken Wolfe

You want to shoot 15 people in My Lai? Go ahead.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, like, you go right there. You go there in your head, like that that can start to happen.

Ken Wolfe

Yeah, because this is how things start. Now, do I think these guys were ever gonna, you know, put 15 Afghans in a room and shoot 'em? No, not at all. But I surely didn't want to let it start. And this is early in the deployment. I mean, this is May.

Sarah Koenig

Yeah, right. Right. OK.

Ken Wolfe

So early, we've decided we're just going to do whatever we want.

Sarah Koenig

So I'd wager Bowe heard what he heard—My Lai—and that Wolfe's point of view wasn't singular, that leadership genuinely considered this worthy of punishment. After the photo thing, three people got in big trouble. Greg Leatherman was demoted, and two other sergeants were moved sideways out of the platoon. Bowe thought Baker had turned against them.

Bowe Bergdahl

He was going out of his way to make everything as miserable as possible in an unnecessary way. That's what I saw. You know, and I saw the effect that had on everybody.

Mark Boal

I guess you weren't the only guy that felt that way, obviously.

Bowe Bergdahl

No. I wasn't the only guy. I was the one of many who thought it was a complete joke. I was one of many who were shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. I was one of many who were just going, I can't believe this is happening.

Austin Lanford

I was mad about it. I was...felt that was the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Like, we're out here doing what you tell us to do. Like, I didn't understand why.

Sarah Koenig

That's Austin. He and the other guys didn't like that they never got to explain why they were out of uniform. They felt like maybe the commander's reaction had less to do with the actual infractions and more to do with the fact that photographic evidence of them was on a website, making the army look bad, making leadership look bad. Daryl Hansen said it felt like they were being judged unfairly.

Daryl Hansen

Off of just a picture, you know? They had no idea what we were about. And so worried about the way we look and our unprofessionalism, not knowing what the atmosphere's like, what the actual OP is like, flies circling you constantly, 110 degrees, no hot food, no hot shower, getting shot at...um, kind of ruined it.

Sarah Koenig

Ruined the feeling Daryl had that they were a really good platoon. They were doing a good job. The punishments messed with morale.

This is when Bowe's level of discontent boils over. Bowe didn't see the commander's actions as corrective. He saw them as punitive and, worse, irrational.

Bowe Bergdahl

Basically, after that, things started falling apart.

Sarah Koenig

He'd been carrying around these worries for months, he said. The Omnah mission of course, Bowe also talked to Mark and to Dahl about a couple of incidents where he felt like privates were being ganged up on, and COs razzing them about their personal lives. He was offended by that. But the uniform debacle, and the photographs, and Baker's freakout, for Bowe, that was the last straw.

Bowe Bergdahl

And that's why I ended up doing what I did. Because he was out of control, from what I could see. He was unfit for what he was doing. And, you know, I wouldn't put it past him to be the type of guy to purposely put me and my platoon mates in harm's way just because he has a personal grudge against us, because we soiled his reputation or whatever bullshit idea he had in his head.

Sarah Koenig

He said his fear, essentially, was that Clint Baker would try to get rid of them, maybe by sending them on a suicide mission. That they might get killed simply because he didn't like them. Bowe told General Dahl, quote, "What could happen is this battalion commander could see us, my platoon, as this stain on his reputation. Now, sending us on a suicide mission wouldn't be the first in military history. Somebody doing...somebody giving out an order on personal agendas or off of personal grievances, it is not going to be a first in military history. So worst case scenario, what happens?" unquote.

Bowe saw a threat, he says. Quote, "And I saw that somebody needed to do something about it. Somebody had to do something that called the situation into check," unquote. Bowe decided he was the somebody who should do something. He had to save them.

On June 7th, Bowe wrote to a close friend back home, Kim Harrison's daughter. He tells her, "In case you guys get word of anything weird about me from the Red Cross or the military, please keep Kim calm."

He wrote, quote, "No red flags. I'm good, but plans have begun to form. No timeline yet." She writes back, "Exactly what kind of plans are you thinking of?" About three weeks later was when he walked off the OP at Mest, hoping, he says, to cause a DUSTWUN, hoping to show up back at FOB Sharana, hoping to tell his fears to a general, hoping to be listened to.

If you're thinking, What? Those are his reasons for leaving? Because he decided his battalion commander was an incompetent asshole? That's why he makes this nutty, radical, dangerous move? What am I missing? you are not alone. For one thing, Mark is with you. We've talked about this a bunch of times, actually.

Mark Boal

The first time he kind of laid it out for me, I don't think I said this on the tape, but I was thinking, like, Get the fuck out of here. You've got to be kidding.

Sarah Koenig

[LAUGHING] Is it like, it can't be what you're saying?

Mark Boal

I'm just like, What? OK. There was no point in hearing that story that I thought, Oh, great. I have the answers. Cool. Thanks. It was more...my reaction was more just like, You've got to be kidding me.

Sarah Koenig

All these years, so many people around Bowe tried to figure out is he selfish or selfless? Is he even telling the truth? He was looking at the same set of circumstances as the other soldiers in his unit. Why'd he react so differently, take such drastic steps? How do you make sense of this guy? Well, you have to go deeper.

Mark Boal

The story in...the story that he told didn't really ever change, but my understanding of the person telling that story changed.

Sarah Koenig

Next time on Serial.

Serial is produced by Julie Snyder, Dana Chivvis and me in partnership with Mark Boal, Megan Ellison, Hugo Lindgren, Jessica Weisberg, Page One, and Annapurna Pictures.

Ira Glass is our editorial advisor. Editing help this week from Brian Reed, Nancy Updike, and Joel Lovell. Whitney Dangerfield is our digital editor. Research by Kevin Garnett. Fact-checking by Michele Harris. Copyediting by Anaheed Alani.

Emily Condon is our line producer. Our music is composed by Nick Thorburn, Fritz Myers, and Mark Phillips. The show is mixed by Kate Bilinski. Kristen Taylor's our community editor. Other Serial staff: Seth Lynn, Elise Bergerson, and Kimberly Henderson. Special thanks this week to Kirsten Luce and Will Yurman.

Our website is serialpodcast.org, where this week you can find a link to those Guardian photos that got Bowe's platoon in trouble. And also for anyone nerding out on the military right now—Dana—we've posted our own beautiful army org chart showing how Bowe's regiment was structured. Next week, we'll also have audio extras and more. Again, that's serialpodcast.org.

Serial is a production of This American Life and WBEZ Chicago.

Mark Boal

So you just grew up like fucking around in the woods?

Bowe Bergdahl

Pretty much. I mean, I grew up following cats.

Ira Glass

Coming up on the next episode of Serial.

Woman

Here's this cute kid from Idaho with blond hair and blue eyes.

Man 11

Definitely quiet. At first, he's very quiet.

Man 12

You have a 19-year-old kid sleeping on your roof, uh, you should probably do something about that.

Bowe Bergdahl

You're probably going to hear this a lot. I'm an extremely logical person.

Man 13

He wore a lot of Spandex in those days.

Woman

And then, all of a sudden, he shows up in his uniform.

Man 12

He always had that kind of, uh, wanting to serve and wanting to protect.

Mark Boal

Were you trying to pass the time, or did you literally lose your mind, and now you just got it back?

Woman

Even when they hear the true story, it's gonna be...they're gonna think it's crazy. But will those people who are already filled with hate and filled with judgment—will they change their mind?

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