You can learn a lot about a soldier from looking at his service uniform. Is he enlisted? Take a look at his wrists. Has he been overseas? Check above his left-hand breast pocket. Bowe Bergdahl’s uniform is a roadmap to his official army career—past and present—and hints at his captivity and, as with many aspects of this story, points to some controversy.
Take, for instance, the sergeant’s stripes on his upper arm. In the summer of 2009, the army investigated the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture, but it didn’t come to a conclusion about whether he had deserted, a charge that is now at the heart of the court-martial. That meant that his status remained “missing-captured” for the next five years. Missing soldiers are promoted based on how long they have served and how long they are in a particular grade. When he was captured, Bergdahl was a private first class. Two automatic promotions meant that when he was released, he was a sergeant.
Rank and awards matter in the military. People notice them. Online, where some of the most negative comments about Bergdahl live, people have decried his combat infantryman badge, for example. His defense team, on the other hand, doesn’t think he has all the awards he deserves. They argue that he should receive four more: the NATO award, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Prisoner of War medal, and the Purple Heart, the last of which is given to soldiers wounded in combat. In a pretrial hearing in January, one of Bergdahl’s attorneys, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Rosenblatt, said the absence of these decorations “is prejudicial. It casts a presumption of guilt, and we urge the government to help us correct that.” The army has said that it won’t determine Bergdahl’s eligibility for additional awards until after the court-martial.
Hover over the different insignia, ribbons, and awards to find out what they mean.