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Brandon veterans keep attention on POW in Afghanistan

TAMPA – Members of Rolling Thunder, Florida Chapter 11, gathered Feb. 23 to raise a sign at Hillsborough County Veterans Park to remind visitors of the plight of a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

Jim Linesberry of Brandon, vice president of the chapter, said the sign specifically draws attention to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. He said the general mission of Rolling Thunder is to educate the public about the more than 90,000 service men and women who have been left on the battlefield unaccounted for since WW I.

“The current conflict in Afghanistan has one POW being held in the northern tribal regions of Pakistan by the Haqqani Network, allied with the Taliban, since June 2009,” Linesberry said.

He said the Rolling Thunder organization is leading a project to build a POW/MIA Memorial at the park. They received permission from the Hillsborough County Commission to place the Bergdahl sign at the site of the future memorial.

“We anticipate the cost of the memorial to be approximately $100,000,” he said. “The county has set aside some money for the construction of the memorials at the park. We don’t know how much will be allocated to our POW/MIA memorial so we can’t say for certain how much we will have to raise privately. Our design includes a bronze statue that will take a year to build. However, we can’t commit to have it built until the money from the county is released.”

Linesberry, who has lived in Brandon since 1979, said the group anticipates having a dedication by June 2015. He retired from the Army as a master sergeant in 1990 after being stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Linesberry went on to become a Department of Defense contractor before being hired as an employee of Special Operations Command at MacDill, where he worked as a computer systems engineer until retiring in October of 2011.

“Rolling Thunder and all the veterans groups in the Brandon are all blessed to live in a very patriotic community,” he said.

He said veterans are encouraging everyone to write to members of Congress to remind them about Bergdahl and to do whatever it takes to bring the soldier home safely before the U.S. leaves the region. Bergdahl is the son of Bob and Jani Bergdahl of Haley, Idaho.

“It sounded as if the U.S. had negotiated a settlement with the Taliban by agreeing to trade five prisoners being held at Guantanamo in exchange for Bowe (Bergdahl),” he said. “The U.S. demanded a proof of life video before they would agree to an exchange. The Taliban complied in December 2013. In the video, Bowe spoke of the recent death of Nelson Mandela. That was the proof they needed of Bowe still being alive.”

Although the prisoner exchange was at the top of the Taliban’s agenda for peace talks to be held in Qatar, the Taliban attacked an Afghani outpost killing 18 with another seven still missing on March 23, Linesberry said.

“They also announced the suspension of all talks with the U.S., blaming the current political climate in Afghanistan. The current president, Hamid Karzai, has run up against term limits and refuses to sign a status of forces agreement with the U.S. He wants the Afghani government to be able to prosecute U.S. soldiers for war crimes if they kill or injure Afghani civilians. If Karzai or the new (Afghani) president does not reach an agreement, the U.S. will be forced to pull all troops out by the end of the year. Rolling Thunder is concerned that Bowe will not be released before the U.S. pulls out. We can’t leave him behind,” he said.

Rolling Thunder is a POW/MIA advocacy organization with more than 100 chapter nationwide. Their Florida Chapter 11 operates out of the Brandon Masonic Lodge No. 114 at 203 N. Moon Ave., Brandon.

The group meets the fourth Saturday of every month at 10 a.m. at the Brandon Masonic Lodge. Meetings are open to the public.

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