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Serial season 2's first big revelation: Why Bowe Bergdahl abandoned his unit

Bowe Bergdahl
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons Bowe Bergdahl

Nearly a year after its first season came to an end, Serial, the most popular podcast ever produced, is back for a second season. The new run of episodes won't feature Adnan Masud Syed, a Baltimore man who was convicted of murder under dubious circumstances in 2000, but instead will follow the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who disappeared from his Afghanistan base in 2009 and was later captured and held by the Taliban for nearly five years. 

Bergdahl was released by the Taliban in 2014 after the United States organized a prisoner swap, which drew a lot of criticism from Americans who believed that he was a deserter, or even a traitor. The first episode of season two "DUSTWUN" (an abbreviation for "duty status - whereabouts unknown") asks whether or not Bergdahl was actually a deserter. 

Serial is able to tell Bergdahl's story straight from the horse's mouth. The makes of the podcast gained access to about 25 hours of calls between Bergdahl and Mark Boal, the writer who penned screenplays to for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, and is looking into writing a screenplay on Bergdahl's odyssey. 

Bergdahl told Boal that he left his forward operating base because he had some serious concerns regarding poor leadership in his unit, and his absence would cause enough of a fuss to give him an audience with a high-ranking military official upon his return. 

"I was fully confident that when someone actually took a look at the situation and when people started investigating the situation that people would understand that I was right," Bergdahl said. 

His initial plan was to trek 18 miles to a larger military base, where he would raise his concerns. But just 20 minutes after he left, he started having cold feet. He was afraid of heading back to his base, as soldiers operating machine guns are constantly looking out for enemies. He changed his plan, and thought he would instead gain intelligence on insurgents planting improvised explosive devices along the roads. 

The following morning, Bergdahl said he had fallen off course and found himself wandering through the open desert without cover. At that point, he was spotted and captured by the Taliban. 

After just one episode, it's unclear as to how true Bergdahl's account really is, and what exactly was going on in his unit that motivated him to abandon his post. The episode ends with narrator and producer Sarah Koenig calling members of the Taliban, who say that they have an entirely different story of Bergdahl's capture. 

You can download and listen to "DUSTWUN" for free at Serial's website