Report: Bergdahl was given psychological discharge from Coast Guard in 2006

Meant to get to this yesterday but got swept away in Cantormania.

Remember my “mental break” theory for why he might have deserted? Well.

Then one day in 2006, Bergdahl announced that he was joining the Coast Guard, a decision his friends thought was unwise given his personality. Harrison said she tried to talk him out of it, but finally relented and drove him to a military office in Idaho Falls to take the entrance exam.

Soon after he left Ketchum for basic training, Bergdahl sent her a dozen or so notebook pages filled with tiny writing, diatribes against the rigors of military life. She was alarmed, she said. When he returned after a few weeks, he told her he had gotten out on a psychological discharge.

“He told me he faked it,” she recalled. “I said, ‘You don’t fake a psychological discharge, you have to become unfit.’ I told him that. The reality was it wasn’t okay. I saw it in the letters, the way the writing was changing, the anger.”…

“I know he believed he was in control, but I didn’t,” [another] friend added. “I sincerely doubted that.”

Read the piece for samples from Bergdahl’s journals, which continued before and after he joined the Army and deployed to Afghanistan. Was he really mental or just a quirky kid prone to melodrama in his diary in describing how depressed he was by military life? This language, from an entry before he deployed, stands out: “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.” Voices, huh? Another bit of writing apparently composed while Bergdahl was in Afghanistan consisted of nothing but the phrase “velcro or zipper/velcro or zipper/velcro or zipper” — for almost two pages.

Two obvious possibilities. One is that he really was having some sort of mental break, possibly replete with delusions of grandeur that he could somehow reason with the Taliban if he could only talk to them face to face. If you’re wondering why the military would have accepted someone like that, who already had a psychological discharge on his record from another service branch, WaPo speculates that it’s because they were handing out lots of waivers circa 2008 to enlistees who had something disqualifying on their record. When you’re fighting two wars and can’t rely on a draft, you may have to be less picky in screening people who are willing to sign up. The other possibility is that, his friends’ skepticism notwithstanding, Bergdahl told them the truth about faking his psychological discharge from the Coast Guard. In which case, maybe the overwrought journal entries in Afghanistan were part of a new plan to fake mental illness so that the Army would send him home too. The problem with that theory, though, is that it doesn’t explain why he would have gone outside the wire and into the Afghan countryside. And it doesn’t explain why he would have mailed some of his writing to a friend back home. If you want your CO to think you’re nuts, you leave the evidence on your bunk. You don’t ship it back to America.

Any new sympathy for Bergdahl from all this? At a minimum, I think, the politics of throwing the book at someone who was apparently unstable and who supposedly ended up being tortured by the enemy — and who was admitted to the service through a waiver in the first place — will counsel leniency in his court-martial. Exit question one: If Bergdahl was this fragile, how come none of the members of his unit seemed to notice? They’ve talked about how he was a loner, spending his time learning Pashtun while the rest of them were socializing, but no one’s said anything I’m aware of that he seemed unhinged. Exit question two: Didn’t his father, at least, know about his Coast Guard discharge in 2006? If so, why did he respond to Bowe’s last e-mail from Afghanistan hinting at doing something dramatic (Michael Hastings said it sounded like a suicide note) by telling him “OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE”? The proper response to someone with a history of mental trouble who’s in crisis is “Go see the counselor ASAP,” no?