A sign announces the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the Hailey Paint and Supply store on June 1 in Hailey, Idaho, Bergdahl's hometown. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for five years by an Islamic insurgent group in Afghanistan before the controversial barter that brought him freedom, was discharged from the Coast Guard two years before joining the Army.
“He did join in early 2006 and he did enter boot camp training,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak confirmed to USA Today. “He left after 26 days ... with an uncharacterized discharge.”
Such discharges, according to Coast Guard regulations, are issued to people who serve less than 180 days. Novak provided no further explanation for Bergdahl’s discharge.
Berghdahl, 28, was held captive by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in Afghanistan until his release May 31. Five Guantamao Bay detainees were freed in the deal, and the Obama administration has faced withering criticism, particularly on Capitol Hill.
Reports from his fellow soldiers and others that he had become disillusioned by the war and had walked away from his post before his capture added to the controversy.
The Washington Post, which first reported the Bergdahl’s Coast Guard history, reported that it obtained a copy of Bergdahl’s computer files, handwrittten journal, essays and other records from his friend, Kim Harrison, who received them from the Army after Bergdahl was taken prisoner in 2009.
The Post said Harrison decided to share the records 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.”
The Post published bits of several entries from Bergdahl’s journal.
“I’m worried,” Bergdahl wrote in one 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 also wrote. “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.”
Public opposition to the exchange has less to do with Bergdahl himself and more with how Obama handled the transfer, according to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, testifying Wednesday on Capitol Hill, defended the deal, saying the risks to Bergdahl were growing when officials feverishly negotiated his release in return for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Hagel also pointed out that Bergdahl has not been charged with any crime and the speculation and criticism of his actions are unwarranted.
“Like any American, Sgt. Bergdahl has rights, and his conduct will be judged on facts — not political hearsay, posturing, charges or innuendo. We owe that to any American and especially those who are members of our military and their families,” he said.
But foes of the deal, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say the men who were released are a threat to Americans. They add that the deal could set a bad precedent and encourage enemies of the U.S. to kidnap Americans.
Contributing: Jim Michaels