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 emails 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 in 2009 when 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.
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.
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 come forward with the journal and computer files 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.
Harrison and others close to Bergdahl said his writing and the events surrounding the Coast Guard discharge raise questions about his mental fitness for military service and how he was accepted into the Army in 2008. Typically, a discharge for psychological reasons would disqualify a potential recruit.
According to Coast Guard records, Bergdahl left the service with an uncharacterized discharge after 26 days of basic training in early 2006. The term applies to people discharged before completing 180 days of service. No reason is specified in such discharges, and a Coast Guard representative said no further information was available.
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.
Whatever the exact circumstances of Bergdahl’s enlistment, the Coast Guard discharge came as no surprise to Harrison and other friends of Bergdahl’s who grew up with him in Ketchum, Idaho, who said he was a poor fit for military service.
He is the perfect example of a person who should not have gone to war, Harrison said.
The writing in Bergdahl’s journal, emails and laptop spans the year before he walked off his post June 30, 2009.