If you’re angry about the prisoner swap that brought Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home in exchange for five Taliban fighters, perhaps some of your outrage should be directed at the lax recruitment standards that landed him in the Army and sent him to Afghanistan in the first place.
Before he became a Taliban prisoner, before he wrote in his journal “I am the lone wolf of deadly nothingness,” before he ever joined the Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard for psychological reasons, said close friends who were worried about his emotional health at the time.
The 2006 discharge and a trove of Bergdahl’s writing — the handwritten journal along with other essays, stories and e-mails provided to The Washington Post — paint a portrait of a deeply complicated and fragile young man who was by his own account struggling to maintain his mental stability from the start of basic training until the moment he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan.
“I’m worried,” he wrote in one journal entry before he deployed. “The closer I get to ship day, the calmer the voices are. I’m reverting. I’m getting colder. My feelings are being flushed with the frozen logic and the training, all the unfeeling cold judgment of the darkness.”
“I will not lose this mind, this world I have deep inside,” he wrote a few pages later. “I will not lose this passion of beauty.”
“Trying to keep my self togeather,” he wrote at another point, using his often unorthodox spelling. “I’m so tired of the blackness, but what will happen to me without it. Bloody hell why do I keep thinking of this over and over.”
On June 9, two weeks before he walked away, Bergdahl sent an e-mail to a friend.
“l1nes n0 t g00 d h3rE. tell u when 1 ha ve a si coure 1ine about pl/-\ns,” read the partially coded message, one of Bergdahl’s many references to unspecified plans and dreams of walking away — to China, into the mountains, or, as he says at one point, into “the artist’s painted world, hiding from the fields of blood and screams, hidden from the monster within himself.”
Several days after he vanished, a box containing his blue spiral-bound journal, his Apple laptop, a copy of the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” military records and other items arrived at the home of his close friend Kim Harrison, whom Bergdahl designated in his Army paperwork as the person who should receive his remains.
Harrison said she decided to share the journal and computer files with The Post because she has become concerned about the portrayal of Bergdahl as a calculating deserter, which she contends is at odds with her understanding of him as a sensitive, vulnerable young man.
A senior Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Army was aware of a prior “administrative discharge” when Bergdahl enlisted. A separate Army official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Bergdahl would have required a waiver to enlist under such circumstances. The official could not immediately confirm that Bergdahl received one.
With two wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, the Army was meeting recruitment goals by issuing waivers that allowed people with criminal records, health conditions and other problems to enlist. According to a 2008 Army War College study on the subject, the Army was issuing waivers at a rate of one for every five recruits at the time.
In other words Bergdahl had huge psychological issues that Army recruiters, desperate to fill quotas, were apparently prepared to ignore– even with his Coast Guard discharge. Simply, he should never have been recruited in the first place. The real blame lies with the upper ranks of the Army, which approved the lax recruitment policies, and ultimately with George Bush, who was president at the time.