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Lawmakers to Army: Don't Award Bergdahl Back Pay

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl leaves a motions hearing during a lunch break in Fort Bragg, N.C., on Sept. 27. (AP Photo)
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl leaves a motions hearing during a lunch break in Fort Bragg, N.C., on Sept. 27. (AP Photo)

One hundred lawmakers are urging the U.S. Army not to award Bowe Bergdahl any back pay -- potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars -- for his time in Taliban captivity.

Led by Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Arkansas and a former soldier, the lawmakers in a Nov. 15 letter to Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said that, while they are "happy" Bergdahl was returned, they remain concerned about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

"At the very least, we know Private Bergdahl's actions, by his desertion admissions in court, jeopardized the lives of his comrades," they wrote. "Despite being given a dishonorable discharge and demotion from sergeant to private, he remains eligible for significant back pay."

Bergdahl, 31, who earlier this month dodged a prison sentence for voluntarily walking off his post in 2009 in Afghanistan, could be eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay for his nearly five years in Taliban captivity even though he was also sentenced to forfeit his pay of $1,000 per month for 10 months.

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President Donald Trump called the ruling, which included a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private, "a complete and total disgrace."

In a press release, Crawford said captive soldiers normally receive special compensation worth around $150,000, in addition to hostile-fire pay and the basic pay they accumulated during captivity. Bergdahl could be eligible for about $13,500 in hostile-fire pay and about $84,000 in basic pay at the rank of private, according to military pay tables.

"I don't believe the pay is deserved," said Crawford, a former sergeant who served as an explosive ordnance disposal technician. "While we should always do everything in our power to bring home prisoners of war, given the circumstances of Bergdahl's capture and his admission of desertion, I don't think it is appropriate to award that pay."

While the letter references "those killed in action who were trying to locate him," Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Wolf, the top enlisted leader in Bergdahl's brigade -- Bergdahl served in Blackfoot Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division -- has said no troops died while searching for him.

But Bergdahl's trial included testimony from survivors who were wounded during missions to find him. Bergdahl, who was held in a cramped cage and beaten by his captors, also testified that he was sorry for the wounds suffered by searchers.

It's not clear when the Army may decide on the issue of Bergdahl's back pay. An email request for comment to a spokesperson wasn't immediately returned.

The congressman hasn't yet heard back from McCarthy, who will soon be leaving his post as the Army's top civilian. The Senate last week confirmed Mark Esper, defense giant Raytheon Co.'s top lobbyist, for Army secretary.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.