Latest 'Serial' podcast goes behind the scenes at Tampa's CentCom
The most recent episode of the popular “Serial” podcast peers into the military’s personnel recovery operations at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Season 2 of the podcast is investigating the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who mysteriously left his base in Afghanistan in June 2009 and wound up being captured by the Taliban. He spent five years in captivity until the U.S. released five Taliban detainees in a controversial exchange for Bergdah in May 2014.
Bergdahl, 29, is now facing a court-martial on charges of desertion and endangering fellow soldiers.
In Episode 5, called “Meanwhile, in Tampa,” “Serial” creator and narrator Sarah Koenig talks with two women who work for the Personnel Recovery unit at CentCom. The two women are called Andrea and Michelle; their real names were not used. They said they feared repercussions if the public knew they had helped bring Bergdahl home because his case is so controversial.
The two women discuss how difficult personnel recovery was in the Afghanistan war theater because only two people in that country were responsible for recovery and they had other responsibilities, too. When Andrea and Michelle realized they couldn’t do the job of recovering Bergdahl from Tampa, they rotated in and out of Afghanistan.
They also explain how the situation was even more difficult because Bergdahl was being held in Pakistan, where the U.S. Defense Department didn’t have the same authority to lead searches as it had in Afghanistan. The CIA had the authority in Pakistan, but many other events, the most significant being the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, took precedence over looking for Bergdahl, according to the podcast.
Michelle and Andrea also discussed how the details of Bergdahl’s capture — his leaving his base on his own — further complicated efforts to recover him. The so-called “circumstance of capture” is not supposed to come into play when a recovery effort is being discussed, the women told Koenig. The Personnel Recovery team is not supposed to judge the how and why of a person being there. The podcast mentioned several other cases of Americans who had gone missing in Afghanistan.
The mission is to get the person back, then comes the consequences and the judgment, the women said. They said they were surprise that many of their colleagues didn’t feel the same way.
“I didn’t realize that I was going to have to convince them that supporting my mission was something that they should do,” Andrea says on the podcast. “You’ll hear the comment, ‘oh well he’s just a journalist. He shouldn’t be there anyway. Why should we help him?’ Or ‘oh they were just hiking? Why were they hiking there?’”
In Bergdahl’s case, the women said, the judgment was much greater because he had walked away from his mission. He was considered a traitor by many.
You can listen to the Serial podcast here.