Bowe Bergdahl was never meant to join the Army, and in so doing, he ultimately created a trail of collateral damage that just may land him in prison for the foreseeable future. But how many more like him are there given the Army’s lacking psychological profile standards?
The military entrance process, among other things, is meant to weed out those who don’t belong. If you’re overweight, it’s obvious; disabled, also pretty obvious. But if your psychological profile doesn’t suggest that you’re a good it for the career path you’ve chosen, or even a fit for military life in general, well, the Army doesn’t have a test for that, nor is it obvious.
Yes, there is a psychological evaluation before entering, which lasts about 10 minutes at most, and is a bare bones way of making sure you haven’t already walked off the psychological reservation. But that does nothing to make sure that you and Uncle Sam are a good match in the long run.
One problem: the Army thinks in decades, and young privates think as far out as the end of basic training. Nothing; not friends, family, prior service or a drill sergeant himself can tell you what will happen from day one in your military career. The decision to join is by nature fraught with insecurity and unknowns. Some are meant to jump in, and some aren’t. Bergdahl never should have jumped, but he was allowed to anyways.
How do we keep potential recruits like him from jumping? When I joined the Army in 2006, an enlistee could walk into a recruiting station and be on a plane to Sand Hill in two weeks. While the Army was needy for recruits during a pretty bloody period in Iraq, two weeks is not enough time to weed out a problem candidate.
How about a few simple questions to start: Why are you joining the military? What drives you? What made you choose your MOS? Why is the sky blue? BECAUSE GOD LOVES THE INFANTRY! I digress…
In all seriousness, there needs to be a much more thorough evaluation of a candidate’s mental state than a few simple questions about past suicide attempts and prescription psych meds. I’m no psychologist, but this type of testing is done in other government jobs before someone is already halfway down range. If anyone has ever filled out psychological profile paperwork to join the CIA’s clandestine service, then you know what I’m talking about.
The purpose here isn’t to let Bowe off the hook for his immaturity or to say that it’s all the Army’s fault. It’s meant to make people think, as they judge Bowe Bergdahl for his transgressions, about how many potential opportunities there were –especially given his bizarre past– from the moment he walked into a recruitment office to the moment he left his post, that could have helped avoid this debacle entirely.