When the Georgia Army National Guard unit based out of Newnan’s Jackson-Pless Armory got into a firefight in Afghanistan in 2009, it was because members of the unit were trying to rescue Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared from his remote Army post and was captured by the Taliban.
Master Sgt. Mark Allen of Loganville was critically wounded in the firefight, after being shot in the head. It took several years of rehabilitation before Allen was able to go home, and he remains confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak and in need of constant, lifelong care.
On Monday, Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy” charges. Those changes could put him in prison for life, according to The Associated Press.
Allen’s injury, as well as a career-ending injury to a Navy SEAL, were linked to Bergdahl’s desertion by the judge in Bergdahl’s court martial. Allen wasn’t mentioned by name, but the AP story mentioned “an Army National Guard sergeant whose head wound put him in a wheelchair.”
Allen, of Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 121st Regiment of the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry, was one of three soldiers injured in the fire fight, which occurred just a month after the unit arrived in Afghanistan, and a month after Bergdahl vanished.
Also wounded were Specialist/Medic Charles Benson of Bravo 2-121, and Corp. Jonathan Morita of the California National Guard, who were assigned to the unit. Benson, whose family is from Albany, suffered wounds to his legs and hands, as did Morita.
“He was on patrol looking for Bowe Bergdahl, and that is how he got hurt,” said Cowetan Robert Stokely, who served co-chairman of the Family Readiness Group for Bravo 2-121. “They were jumped by hostiles with overwhelming fire power.
“The details I know of what happened during that fire fight – it was horrible,” Stokely said. He said it was his understanding that if it weren’t for air support that was called in, things would have been much worse.
Stokely got to know Allen when Allen served with his son, Sgt. Michael Stokely. Michael Stokely was killed in Iraq in 2005. Many of the soldiers who served with Michael Stokely in the 108th Calvary transferred to Bravo 2-121, Robert Stokely said.
After his son’s death, Stokely said Allen would call – from Afghanistan – to check on him. The Allens come every summer to the annual commemoration at Stokely’s grave in Loganville.
There were years of efforts to effect Bergdahl’s release. In 2014, a deal was reached with the Taliban that traded five prisoners held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl.
In December 2015, the U.S. Army announced that Bergdahl would be charged with desertion and misbehavior.
According to the AP, Bergdahl told a general after his release that he walked off the remote military post to draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit. “At the time, I had no intention of causing search and recovery options,” Bergdahl said at his court martial.
“There is tremendous anger out there in the military community,” Stokely said.
“Bowe Bergdahl caused American military personnel to be put in harm’s way. My friend Mark Allen was one of them. My friend Jonathan Morita was one of them, and they got hurt. I know some people will say they could have gotten hurt some other day, some other way. That is a different story,” Stokely said.
“They wouldn’t have been on that patrol in that place except they were looking for Bowe Bergdahl. That is an undisputed fact.”
Though only a few of the unit’s soldiers were from Coweta, the community strongly supported Bravo 2-121. A family picnic was hosted at Carl Miller Park before the unit left for training at Camp Shelby, Miss., and Cowetans lined the streets of downtown Newnan as the unit left for Camp Shelby.
A few months after the deployment, the “Adopt a Soldier” group formed to send care packages to the soldiers. There were local fundraisers held for Allen and his family, and the unit returned home in July 2010 to a parade in downtown Newnan.
The Associated Press contributed to this story