In a diary entry written shortly before Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl headed to Army basic training in Georgia and more than a year before he walked off base in Afghanistan, the young recruit wrote, “I know that there is light in this darkness, and that I can actuly [sic] reach it if I keep walking, keep moving to it.” That excerpt, from a journal kept by Bergdahl before his capture by the Taliban in 2009, is just one of many that suggest a restless soldier eager to walk away.
Bergdahl’s writings, obtained by the Washington Post from a friend of the young soldier, paint a portrait of a vulnerable and troubled young man who was often psychologically at odds with those around him. Bergdahl, who was discharged from the Coast Guard in 2006 and drifted for several years before joining the Army in June 2008, called himself “the lone wolf of deadly nothingness,” and mentioned having “plans” shortly before he apparently walked off the Afghanistan army base.
The excerpts the Post published from Bergdahl’s journal do not answer the question of whether he deserted or not, and may not play a significant role in the House of Representatives’ investigation into the events surrounding his disappearance from base. But they do reveal important details about his character.
Here’s what Bergdahl’s journal suggests about the soldier’s state of mind before his captivity.
- He struggled to maintain mental stability. Bergdahl wrote of a “darkness” around him and seemed to harbor deeper psychological unease. “I will not lose this mind, this world I have deep inside,” he wrote shortly before he deployed. “I will not lose this passion of beauty.” In one diary excerpt from 2009, repetitions of the phrase “velcro or zipper/velcro or zipper/velcro or zipper,” cover nearly two pages.
- He seemed frustrated with the Army. Bergdahl was disillusioned with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and while his comrades called him “a good soldier,” the private was aloof and brooding. “i’m at an odd place here,” he wrote.”Bullet sponges… This is what some of the SEALs call regular Army and other mass ground troops. Its right, the job of a soldier is basically to die,” he wrote.
- He longed to travel. Bergdahl wasn’t accustomed to staying put for long periods of time. “One day, if I make it out of this, I will go around the world. I will not use airplanes, but only trains, boats, vehicles, and… (if I still have them) my feet,” he wrote. And later, “Walk us to the end of this. Walk on. And walk us out of here…”
- He had a “plan.” Bergdahl’s journal discusses a “plan” on several occasions, but it’s far from conclusive whether he was planning to desert the Army. In an email to a friend’s daughter written three weeks before he walked off post, he wrote “Im good. But plans have begun to form, no time line yet. . . love you! Bowe.”His friend’s daughter wrote back, “Exactly what kind of plans are you thinking of?”“l1nes n0 t g00 d h3rE tell u when 1 ha ve a si coure 1ine about pl/-\ns,” Bergdahl wrote back in coded script next day. “There is still time yet for thinking.”
- He expressed feelings of alienation. “Like i’m pulling away from the human world, but getting closer to people,” he wrote in Afghanistan. “Almost as if its not the people I hate, but society’s ideas and reality that hold them . . . I want to change so much and all the time, but then my mind just locks down, as if there was some one else in my mind shutting the door in my face. . . . I want to pull my mind out and drop kick it into a deep gorge.”
Bergdahl, who is still recovering after his five years in prison, has yet to speak to the media — or, if reports are to believed, his family.