Battleland

Waiting for Bowe: America’s Last Captured Soldier

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Robert and Jani Bergdahl, parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in Hailey, Idaho, May 12, 2012. Bowe Bergdahl is America's only known current prisoner of war.

Nearly three years ago, Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, a machine gunner with the 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, disappeared from his outpost in eastern Afghanistan. A short time later, the military learned that Bowe had been captured by the Taliban.

For every parent who sends their son or daughter to war, the ultimate nightmare is seeing a uniformed officer walking up to the house to tell you your child is dead. For Bob and Jani Bergdahl, the nightmare has no end, as their son has been held by the Taliban for nearly three years.

Late last week, I had the honor of meeting with Bob.

Since his son’s capture, he’s become a student of the history, politics and religion that permeates Afghanistan and Pakistan. He taught himself Urdu and Pashto so he could read from news reports and chat rooms in the area, and so if it ever came to it, so he could talk with his son’s captors. Nearly two years after Bow’s capture, Bob made a video he posted on Youtube where he appealed directly to the Pakistani military for Bowe’s release:

What amazed me about the Bowe Bergdahl story is that until this past week, when his family broke a long silence, most people had no idea who he was. Even as I began to research his story for a forthcoming magazine article, I knew very little about his capture. It’s yet another symptom of a military that’s disastrously separated from society, one that’s fought a war for going on twelve years while most Americans have paid scant attention.

Prisoners have been a part of every war in history, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been no exception. In 2006, I took part in a half dozen or so missions searching for the remains of Matt Maupin, who was captured in an ambush west of Baghdad in 2004. Unlike Maupin, who is believed to have been killed shortly after his capture, Bowe Bergdahl is believed to be alive, and there is still hope for a negotiation that will being him home.

In the mean time, the Bergdahls and the small town of Hailey, Idaho wait for their son to be released from captivity halfway around the world.

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