The family of an Army private killed during the search for Bowe Bergdahl said Tuesday they are glad the freed sergeant is coming back to America to be reunited with his family — and to face an inquiry into whether he deserted his unit.
"We're happy that he's home," said Travis Wright, brother of Pfc. Matthew Martinek, 20, who was killed in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan in September 2009.
"He's an American and deserves to be home, but we want to know what happened."
Up to six U.S. soldiers may have been killed while looking for Bergdahl or supporting the search effort after he vanished from his base and was captured by the Taliban.
Some family members have blasted Bergdahl as a deserter, pinned their loved ones' deaths on him and criticized the White House for releasing five Taliban leaders to secure his freedom.
But Wright, an Army captain who said he took part in 2012 search mission for Bergdahl, cautioned against a rush to judgment and said no matter why he left the base, he had to be rescued.
"He is an American and he is a soldier and we take care of our own," he said.
"You never leave a man behind."
That's the justification the White House and Pentagon have given for the prisoner swap, which has raised hackles among GOP lawmakers who say the U.S. should not have negotiated with terrorists and some veterans who suggest Bergdahl has blood on his hands.
"Every single mission we did was pointed toward finding Berghdahl," former Army medic Josh Cornelison said of operations around Paktika Province in the 90 days after the disappearance.
"Every single person that died was doing something to find Bowe Berghdahl."
US ARMY / AP
Pfc. Matthew M. Martinek of DeKallb, Ill.
Former platoon members have said six deaths were tied to Bergdahl-related missions, although there has been no confirmation of that from the Defense Department.
The mother of one of the six, Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen, said she's not sure how strong the connection is in her son's case.
Bowen, 29, of Texas, was on his way to protect voting precincts so Afghans could cast ballots in the presidential election when his humvee hit a roadside bomb, Reesa Doebbler said.
But from speaking to her son's Army buddies she has learned that Taliban attacks increased in the weeks after Bergdahl went missing as the military flooded the area with troops and soldiers fanned out on searches.
"Directly or indirectly, he may have been responsible for some of those deaths, including my son," Doebbler said.
"I think that Clay possibly could have been indirectly affected [even though] he wasn’t out on a mission looking for Bergdahl," she said.
Regardless, the San Antonio mom said, the congratulatory air surrounding Bergdahl's release left a bitter taste.
"I don't want him treated like a hero," she said.
First published June 3 2014, 11:19 AM