RALEIGH, N.C. – One soldier who searched for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl uses a wheelchair now, unable to speak because of a head wound. Another still can’t fully use his right hand. Still another searcher saw a leg wound from enemy fire end his career as a Navy SEAL.
Those wounds are expected to be considered by the judge who will determine Bergdahl’s punishment on charges that he endangered his comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009. The sentencing hearing opens Monday for Bergdahl, who pleaded guilty to misbehavior before the enemy and desertion.
Here are the stories of wounded searchers who are part of the case against Bergdahl.
Army National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Allen had already served in Iraq and could have begged off another deployment, a family friend said.
“He told me that he was coming back to a frontline unit because they were going to be deployed and he didn’t want his guys to go alone,” said Robert Stokely.
Deployed to Afghanistan, Allen was shot in the head in July 2009 while searching for Bergdahl. The traumatic brain injury dramatically changed life for Allen, his wife and two children. Once an avid outdoorsman, Allen depends on a wheelchair and can’t speak.
Allen’s wife, Shannon, declined to be interviewed. But the toll was evident as she sat crying in the courtroom the day Bergdahl pleaded guilty.
Before being wounded, Allen gave words of support to Stokely after his son — National Guard Sgt. Michael Stokely — died in Iraq in 2005.
“If you want to look at the best America has to offer, look at the Allen family,” Robert Stokely said.
Jonathan Morita of California, who served as an Army corporal, was reservist and Iraq veteran taking college classes when he was recalled for Afghanistan duty.
“I was at home enjoying life as a civilian — going to school, working at a job,” he said by phone earlier this year.
During the search mission that left Allen wounded, a rocket-propelled grenade shattered Morita’s hand. The projectile didn’t explode, but he needed multiple surgeries.
Morita can’t bend the thumb or index finger on his right hand. He’s had to learn again how to brush his teeth and write.
“Imagine doing things with your three fingers,” Morita said. “I can’t even change the oil on my car.”
He said he’s trying to live as normally as possible, but still feels anger toward Bergdahl: “Every time I hit my finger on something, there’s only one image that pops in my head, and it’s him.”
In a second interview, Morita said he was struck by Bergdahl’s comment in court that he didn’t think such a large search would be mounted for him.
“I manned those missions,” he said. “I mean anybody who’s ever watched ‘Black Hawk Down’ would know that we do that.”
Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch, a former Navy SEAL, said his team had 90 minutes to plan a separate search mission under poor conditions. But he felt the mission was crucial.
“I did not want Sgt. Bergdahl’s mother to see her son executed on YouTube,” Hatch said in a statement.
Their helicopters came under fire as they were landing to search near the Pakistan border.
Hatch testified his leg was hit by AK-47 fire, and a military dog that helped locate enemy fighters was killed. He now runs a nonprofit providing care and support for military and law enforcement dogs.
He credits survival to team members who quickly applied a tourniquet. “They saved me from bleeding to death,” said Hatch, who entered the pretrial hearing limping.
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